I’ll open this review with a little bit of frank honesty: until the last month or so, Bloc Party had basically dropped off the radar for me. Despite the love I had for the band in their early days, the release of their latest album, Four, in August passed by with barely a ripple. Thankfully, these last few weeks have remedied that. The new album is in fact a bit of a corker. Not only that, but over the years, Bloc Party has evolved into a ruthlessly efficient and confident live band, a far cry from their more tentative gigs back in the day.
All photos by: Laura Chirinos
Kele Okerere, the love-it-or-hate-it vocalist/guitarist who fronts the band, is certainly much more comfortable with audiences than he used to be. Wearing a Lakers sweater and a big grin on his face, Okerere strolled out onto the Hollywood Palladium stage Friday night and ripped into new album opener, “So He Begins To Lie,” making it clear to a wild LA crowd that the band had brought its A-game.
Within minutes, Bloc Party was in full swing, playing old favorite “Like Eating Glass,” inspiring singalongs and driven by the propulsive rhythms of shirtless drummer Matt Tong, one-half of the best rhythm section in British indie. Meanwhile Kele’s voice sounded like it always has: a little bit like a yelp, but totally unaffected and with a warmth that the years of experience have given him.
In a live setting, Bloc Party’s occasionally awkward lyrics and phrasing are a little harder to make out, and it’s the overall sound that is pushed to the forefront. That sound stands up really well after all this time. Guitar licks are usually driven by effects pedal work to give the whole event the feel of a rave rather than a rock concert, as on the frantically stuttering riff for new single “Octopus” or the wiry and snaking guitar line on older song “Hunting For Witches.” The dance-music influence is evident throughout the back catalogue, but the live show was all about the rock and showcasing the harder edge on the new album in particular.
To that effect they got the track listing spot on. The laid-back vibe of “Real Talk” was a well-timed breather, and when things got a little crazy, the band always had a soaring quieter track to throw in, such as the glorious “This Modern Love.” “Coliseum” lived up to its giant title, slipping from a bluesy riff into downtuned heaviness. And they played “Helicopter.” Well of course they played “Helicopter.” It remains a signature tune, urgent and euphoric, and if anything this live version was sped up ever so slightly as if to enhance the point that this was more than just a routine performance.
Kele was clearly having a great time, joking with the crowd that “Waiting For The 7.18” was a song they wouldn’t understand as it was about public transport and hopping around when he wasn’t fixed to a guitar. He seemed not just to want to give the crowd a great show, but to give them something massive to kick off their weekend with. And so the band ended the set with “Flux,” possibly their most overtly dance-infused track and one designed to send the citizens out onto the streets of LA for an all-nighter.
That was the key to the success of the show. There was a celebratory aspect and a laid-back confidence that does not come across on record, where the band can sound angry and intense. Matt Tong’s sensational work on the drums makes him feel like the band’s real lead, and the group simply sounds better than they ever have after rumors of in-band tension and a break-up left fans wondering if they’d ever be back. Unexpectedly, it was one of the best shows I’ve been to all year, and more importantly, I’ve fallen in love with the band again. Rediscovery is always a lovely feeling.
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