Bloc Party concert, disjointed and unengaging

Strong openers, stingy crowd, slow pace stifle headliner's weak set

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Kele Okereke

Zack Vitiello

HELLOOOOO LONDON? ANYBODY THERE? The usually chatty Kele Okereke, Bloc Party guitarist and vocalist, reciprocated the lack of love from the London crowd Sunday night with an unusual lack of between-song banter.

Bloc Party makes two types of songs: emotionally-charged slow-burners and hard-hitting powerhouses. While the band does both incredibly well, its set list at Sunday’s Centennial Hall concert showcased why this is a problem.

On record, the pace of Bloc Party’s music tends to ebb and flow from fast to slow in a natural and predictable fashion, resulting in albums that possess solid, understandable structures. Live, these up-and-down tendencies rendered the set disjointed and nearly impossible to engage with.

It didn’t help that Bloc Party brought in one of Canada’s most exciting live bands to open the set. Amidst a seemingly impenetrable mess of wires and gutted electronics, Holy Fuck got the night started with its trademark experimental electro-rock creations.

Though the audience was far smaller and less energetic than at this year’s London Ontario Live Arts festival, Holy Fuck sounded more frantic yet tighter than ever, with Graham Walsh injecting layers of heavily distorted vocals into the band’s already baffling sonic landscape.

As the last screeching notes of “Lovely Allen” echoed through the half-full hall, it was clear the bar had been set damn high.

Unfortunately, the venue remained relatively empty as Bloc Party took the stage. Even as the band blasted into opener “One Month Off” with impressive force, the audience simply nodded along sparingly.

Holy Fuck

It was evident that frontman Kele Okereke " who is generally quite chatty " was unimpressed, and the only time he opened his mouth was to say an obligatory “Hello London, Ontario” somewhere in the middle of the set. In fact, the band members seemed to be taking their cues from the audience, simply standing in place with detached looks on their faces.

While much of the material from 2008’s Intimacy was met with the aforementioned ambivalence, the jittery rockers off of 2005’s Silent Alarm did manage to get the audience moving.

As the familiar bass line of “Positive Tension” thudded out of the amps four songs into the set, you couldn’t help but be reminded why you fell in love with Bloc Party in the first place. The urgent guitar strums of “Banquet” and the sprawling heart-wrench of “This Modern Love” only reaffirmed the feeling.

Complemented by an excellent light show, many of the night’s songs should have been able to work the audience into a dancing frenzy, but the impact of the hard-hitters was continually muted by interspersed sleepers like “Signs,” “Better Than Heaven” and “Sunday.”

The pacing issues were made even worse by the fact that Centennial Hall is clearly not designed to house a band like Bloc Party. The louder the band played, the more the venue vibrated, causing Okereke’s typically flawless vocals to become muffled and, in a few instances, unrecognizable.

However, it should be noted that some of Bloc Party’s new material sounded surprisingly good. While its collection of effects pedals has definitely grown, many of the irritating electro elements of Intimacy were ignored, leaving the band to do what they do best. With pummeling drum lines and soaring choruses, “Halo” and “Trojan Horse” came across much better live than on record.

Sadly, even the ridiculously energetic performance of “Helicopter” as the night’s last encore could not save this show from missing the mark. If Bloc Party ever plays London again, hopefully they will remember to pace themselves.

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