A timid set leaves Bloc Party stuck in the disappointing space between their beloved early material and more exploratory present, writes Jacob Hopkins
8th February at Albert Hall
Like many bands which have been around for over a decade, Bloc Party in 2017 have a problem. Their older material is what the fans seem to want to hear night after night, and so in a live setting this raises the question of how to balance out their early, frenetic indie rock with the new line-up’s more laid-back, blues and soul-influenced focus. While their set last week at the Albert Hall was enjoyable, it was a little too short and had an air of hedged bets.
I arrived in time to catch the support act, Liverpudlian electro-rock outfit Haarm. Although their first few numbers suffered from sounding fairly indistinguishable, their later songs introduced some more interesting elements of blues and funk and by the end of their set they seemed to have won over the crowd (in particular, their sheer joy at playing a large venue was rather sweet) – hopefully we’ll hear more of the latter from them in future.
Half an hour later, Bloc Party arrived on stage, kicking off their set with two fairly understated songs from their latest album Hymns. It wasn’t until the third song that they played ‘She’s Hearing Voices’, a fast-paced number from their critically-adored debut Silent Alarm and the crowd really started to feel energetic. From this point onwards, the band decided to play it fairly safe by focusing on older material, dropping a couple of rarer tracks from their politically-charged sophomore effort A Weekend In The City in lieu of much commentary on current affairs. Frontman Kele Okereke cryptically told us that “we can only overcome hatred with our love.” The ever-growing moshpit in front of him seemed to favour a more direct approach. A mere seventy-five minutes later, a pair of safe bets in the form of early hit ‘Helicopter’ and dance-punk-rap crossover ‘Ratchet’ closed out a satisfying if slightly rushed set.
As a big fan of Bloc Party, I did enjoy the gig, but the choice of songs did feel a little timid at times. I got the impression that the band wanted neither to completely rely on past hits nor properly explore their newer material and back catalogue, but the resulting set list just felt a bit muddled as a result. Their third and fourth albums, Intimacy and Four were largely ignored and newer material was approached in an almost defeatist manner, as if they felt the crowd would merely tolerate rather than lap it up.
This was a shame – they have great material across the board and should play it with pride. Indeed, a furious rendition of ‘Where Is Home’ from A Weekend In The City was my highlight of the evening whereas versions of ‘Two More Years’ and ‘Mercury,’ reworked to the band’s new sound and multi-instrumental rhythm section, got great reactions from the crowd. Going forward, if Bloc Party are brave enough to expand their set lists, reimagine material from their back catalogue and have more confidence in their newer efforts then they can avoid having to be overly reliant on nostalgia for 2005.
There’s always one though – as the band walked offstage, someone next to me shouted “No…don’t go…you’ve got so much more of Silent Alarm to play!”