Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bloc Party @ Manchester Academy 1 (14.2.07.)

The last time I saw Bloc Party and, indeed, the three times before, I bemoaned the band’s lack of confidence in their own songs and ability. As anyone who has ever seen a band who seemed ill-at-ease in a live setting will know, reticence does not become the showman. Bloc Party have always relied on the innate intensity of their output to radiate on stage, choosing not to try to kick it up a notch. In short, they have hidden behind their music and never really seemed to want to step out front-and-centre either.

This lack of assertion was always what hamstrung Bloc Party from translating their excellent debut album Silent Alarm into the forceful live show it deserved. Now that they are touring a brand new album (the impressive A Weekend In The City), I was intrigued to see if this fatal flaw had been remedied. Well, I’m glad to say that it has, and then some.
Whether it’s the relieving effect of some of the new album’s lyrical themes or whether Kele Okereke and band just have more faith in themselves these days, I don’t know. However, something has changed in Bloc Party and, more importantly, in Okereke, turning them from reserved wallflowers into self-assured, swaggering stars. As soon as they kick the set off with a pumped-up, ferocious run-through of ‘Song For Clay (Disappear Here)’ you notice that you are now in the company of a band starting to grow into their skin and their position as one of the most interesting, forward-thinking groups in Britain.
This realisation is all but sealed when they sidestep the ignominy of having the worst roadies in the business by virtue of guitarist Russell Lissack, bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong rattling through instrumental versions of recent indie hits (‘Mr Brightside’, ‘Slow Hands’ and ‘Do You Want To?’) while Okereke wrangled with the crew over which was the correct guitar he needed for ‘Waiting For The 7.18’. Tong even told a really piss-poor joke (which I won’t recount), for god’s sake!
The capper comes during main set closer, ‘Like Eating Glass’, as Okereke jumps into the pit in front of the crowd before attempting to scale the speaker stack. This is not the Kele we’ve seen before. Imposter! This newfound cockiness means that the likes of ‘Banquet’, ‘Helicopter’, ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ and ‘This Modern Love’ are lent a new level of passion than the versions we’ve encountered live before.
However, this conviction doesn’t completely extend to the new album just yet, as only a handful of songs from A Weekend In The City get an airing. Sure, we get ‘The Prayer’, ‘Hunting For Witches’ and ‘Uniform’, but ‘I Still Remember’, ‘Kreuzberg’ and ‘SRXT’ would have been nice too. Still, the leap forward Bloc Party have made in the past year or so should mean that, by the next tour, they’ll be world-beaters. One of Britain’s best bands just got that little bit better.


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