Words by: Nell Alk | Images by: Pearse Daly
Bloc Party :: 03.24.09 :: Terminal 5 :: New York, NY
"It's New York; it's a big deal, all right?" quips Kele Okereke, lead singer of the British indie rock sensation Bloc Party. He says this with a grin after confessing to a sea of BP devotees that he's been too nervous to eat dinner. Sincere as he sounds, it's difficult to imagine a man of his talent and stature having trouble getting food down before taking the stage. Empty stomach or otherwise, he and his now well known and deeply adored band raised the roof at Manhattan's Terminal 5.
|Kele Okereke - Bloc Party :: 03.24 :: NYC|
Okereke, dressed in an Adidas tracksuit, Nike kicks and a red sweatband (evidently the male equivalent of Sporty Spice), was all smiles when the group trotted out to a deafening roar of applause. Cameras flashed, arms shot up in the air and everyone cheered. The energy in the room proved intoxicating, a contagious excitement flooding the venue from floor to ceiling. Despite his lack of appetite, this did not keep Okereke from swallowing something; he sipped on a Poland Springs bottle filled with what looked like whisky but could have been any number of brown-hued alcoholic liquids. Come their performance of "Ion Square," the tenth number in their extensive 19-track set, Okereke tossed a bottle into the audience. Needless to say, the contraband was swiftly confiscated by security, who, I might add, were in full force.
"Ion Square," one of seven songs in their set from their third and most recent release, Intimacy (2008), featured Gordon Moakes taking a break from bass guitar and jumping on keyboard, which was a neat sight to be seen from stage left, observing his nimble finger-play head on. Behind him Matt Tong, sporting a Nirvana cut-off and canary yellow swim trunks, feverishly attacked the drums, his facial expressions (what I like to call "stink faces") leaving little to the imagination about the passion he puts into his percussion. So smokin' was the execution that it's somewhat surprising his glasses didn't fog up.
The guys drew from their two older albums as well: six off A Weekend in the City (2007) and six off Silent Alarm (2005). It was wise of them to pluck from records past, and overall they played a solid collection of songs, and their setlist (which included two encores) was far from something to scoff at. Their enthusiastic delivery was chock full of personality and depth, showcasing their range and musical evolution.
|Bloc Party :: 03.24 :: NYC|
Another number revealing Moakes' pained precision, this time tapping mallets just so on the xylophone, was their rendition of the ever-popular "Signs," a delicate, moderately danceable ditty off Intimacy that had feet tapping and hips swaying from side to side. This expansive electro-lullaby carries an elegiac current, which makes sense, as the entire Intimacy album was written by Okereke following a bad breakup. I can only surmise his motives, be it based on the death of a friend or the death of a relationship. Regardless of the inspirational origin, if any song were going to elicit sensitivity, lighters held high and couples cozying closer, this was it. For a legitimately sick remix, go here for Armand Van Helden's badass reworking. It elevates this sad song from forlorn to booty bumpin' with its fearless, synth-heavy beats. This song (along with twelve others, including an addictive Filthy Dukes gym-must remix of "One Month Off") appears on Intimacy Remixed, due to drop May 11.
"So Here We Are" possesses a similar romantic (read: great to make out to) tune. Unlike "Signs," it contains guitar strumming as well as drumming. Fans went wild at first note, screaming and clapping along. What truly turned everyone on, though, was Bloc Party's live version of "Mercury," a repetitive, spastic track that had Okereke moving all over the stage sans guitar and, when he wasn't doing an adorable dance, operating the playback pedal at the base of the mic stand. An aggressive anthem, Okereke took advantage of being hands-free and truly let loose. He even got goofy with a stage technician trying to hook him up to a portable mic clip. He'd squat and bounce backwards, shaking his rump and frog hopping in the opposite direction, bumping the tech guy with every jump. Okereke genuinely had us giggling at his silliness.
After "Like Eating Glass," Bloc Party exited. We knew they'd be back momentarily to tear it up a little longer, and sure enough, out they padded, with Okereke having rolled up one pant leg LL Cool J-style. Sweet. "We're back for part two," he announced. This was met with ample yelling, but not enough to suit Okereke. "You can get a little better!" he shouted. Then, they dove headfirst into "Halo," a guitar-heavy track off Intimacy that truly exemplifies their rock band status. While they are known for mixing it up and combining both rock and dance sensibilities, "Halo" brings on the head-banging and crowd surfing, not to mention a sick guitar solo interspersed with hard-hitting drum work. It was a welcome relief from their other more trendy, albeit amazing, danceable ballads.
|Bloc Party :: 03.24 :: NYC|
Bloc Party prolonged the rock roll they were on with the pounding "The Prayer," which had fans hoisted on shoulders whilst fist-pumping the air and gliding oh-so-ungraciously towards the barricade. Security captured delinquents and escorted them away. Tong rushed down during this song from his elevated platform and Okereke took this opportunity to sit on him as Tong got in plank position. I really have no explanation for this action, but it was mildly amusing, especially with those damn trunks and the fact that Tong was now shirtless.
Following "The Prayer," Okereke proclaimed, "We have two songs left for you. Only two." This was met with playful booing, but he immediately added, "So, you like to dance, do you?" They then broke into the fast-paced, techno track "Flux." Moakes again commanded the keyboard. The song echoed from wall-to-wall as the audience shook their tushes. After this, they played what everyone expected to be the last song, "Helicopter," and everyone went nuts; someone even tossed something onstage, which I was unable to make out but it looked like Scotch tape. Really, people?
Bloc Party exited after this, only to return moments later and feed us another line: "We're gonna play one more song. Fuck it!" This was met with accolades, though based on the setlist I held in my hand I was once again hip to Okereke's bluffing. Two more. "This is a song about fighting. Are you ready for a fight?" Okereke inquired. I bet security loved this. Okereke added, "It's pure, liquid aggression." And so it went. They played "Ares," a strong song characterized by winding electric guitar and choppy, layered shout-singing. Lead guitarist Russell Lissack strummed as Okereke wandered the stage and then climbed the speakers at stage right, making his way to the first level balcony. He maneuvered his way over the rail and sang amid the people seated there. The room ate it up. And who wouldn't, honestly? He's delicious.
|Bloc Party :: 03.24 :: NYC|
Bloc Party brought the evening full circle with the simple strumming number, "This Modern Love," the song that started it all as far as I'm concerned. I like to think that we as an audience collectively embraced the recognizable track, with its familiar lyrics and potentially nostalgic undertones. I know I appreciated being brought back a few years to when we were first becoming acquainted with this new and different English outfit. In any case, regardless of my fellow attendees' stances on the selection, no one would dispute this being a successful show. Brimming with aesthetically eclectic song choices performed flawlessly and with a heavy does of humor between tracks, overall the evening proved well worth waiting in line to get in and fending against the ocean of fans filling every square inch of this vast venue. And, while I am all for remembering where they came from, I suggest paying attention to where they're headed. Up next is the continuation of their U.S. tour through the end of April and then Intimacy Remixed dropping mid-May. Most immediately, we simply hope Okereke has regained his appetite, especially as he's contracted viral pharyngitis (an inflammation of the throat) and was unable to perform at Miami's Ultra Music Festival this past Saturday.
03.24.09 :: Terminal 5 :: New York, NY
One Month Off, Trojan Horse, Hunting for Witches, Positive Tension, Signs,
Waiting for the 7.18, Song for Clay, Banquet, Where is Home?, Ion Square, Mercury,
So Here We Are, Like Eating Glass
First Encore: Halo, The Prayer, Flux, Helicopter
Second Encore: Ares, This Modern Love
Bloc Party's next show is on April 11 in Dublin and they perform in L.A. on April 15. Complete dates available here.
Continue reading for more pics of Bloc Party in New York City...