17 Sep 2012: 9:30 Club Washington, D.C.
Despite what a dozen films and a thousand songs might tell you, it’s not difficult to be in a successful rock band. Let’s be honest. But hear me out—the guys in Bloc Party don’t have it easy. When you debut with a record like Silent Alarm (2005), the perfect reflection of a zeitgeist and an instant classic, you’ve nowhere to go but down. The rest of your career will, barring some preternatural artistic enlightenment, viewed by many as a perennial sophomore slump. And fair enough, the London act hasn’t replicated the success of that debut. Still, you shouldn’t miss the band when they play in your town. At this point in its career, Bloc Party’s shows have the atmosphere of a Greatest Hits reprisal, a reminder of how much fantastic material they’ve recorded over the years.
I first saw the band on their first American tour, playing Silent Alarm front-to-back to a rapt, enraptured audience. The guys in the band, especially frontman Kele Okereke, exuded such grateful, goofy excitement in those early shows that they made a fan of me for the rest of my adult life. I love this band. I want them to succeed. I’ve seen them tour behind every successive album since, and I rarely come home disappointed. Bloc Party’s recent set at D.C.’s 9:30 Club, part of the first wave of an American tour behind their new record, Four, stacked up to the band’s best performances. They’re pros now, and what they lack in that deer-in-headlights energy of that first tour, they’ve gained in pure rock’n’roll know-how.
The band opened with the stuttering, lurching “So He Begins to Lie”, one of the strongest cuts from Four and a chance to show off Okereke’s practiced pipes. His voice would falter toward the end of the evening, but it was in fine form here, careening toward the 9:30’s high ceilings with no trouble at all. Four was well-represented in the set, though not as much as you might imagine for a band promoting a new record. This is a good thing. It’s a strong record, much stronger than 2008’s muddled Intimacy, but the band has more to give than its best cuts. Still, hearing songs like “Kettling” and “We Are Not Good People” live makes sudden sense out of the band’s decision to go near-metal on the album. These songs sound best when played really, really loudly.
Otherwise, the band trotted out a sample platter of its catalog, from the beautiful “Blue Light” and “Modern Love” to the thorny rush of “Hunting for Witches” and “Trojan Horse”. I have a theory: Bloc Party believed in 2007’s A Weekend in the City, a sophomore album rudely shrugged aside in the tradition of sophomore albums, and they still do. I think the band feels it to be its strongest record, a pop-rock classic of the decade in its own right. The material from that record shone at the 9:30 Club, with the dynamics of “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)” and “The Prayer” showcasing the strength and risks of Weekend’s songwriting, the strongest—if not most viscerally affecting—in Bloc Party’s career. On the same note, Weekend’s strengths revealed the thinness of Intimacy, an electro-infused misstep. Kele’s awkward moves onstage should be a good enough indicator as to whether or not he should pursue making dance music. Bloc Party will likely never regain the critical capital it had when it first came onto the scene. It won’t be a “cool” band again. Nevertheless, the band shows its confidence onstage and rightly so. This is a catalog any 2000s act should be proud of, and a live setting may be the best way to digest it.
• So He Begins to Lie
• Trojan Horse
• Hunting for Witches
• Positive Tension
• Song for Clay (Disappear Here)
• Blue Light
• Team A
• One More Chance
• The Prayer
• We Are Not Good People
• This Modern Love
• Like Eating Glass