United Palace Theatre, NYC - Mar 30th, 2006
It's been a while. My immersion into Bloc Party came at a somewhat unfortunate time, somewhere between their final shows in New York and the second album recording hiatus. While I never realistically contemplated going to their planned shows supporting (cough) Panic! At The Disco a few months ago, the freakish injury to drummer Matt Tong put an end to any possibilities there. So, it was one of the more exciting moments of musical existence when I heard that they would be playing locally in the Spring. Despite some surcharge mangling, as well as one heck of a trip uptown, the show really met all my lofty expectations, emotionally, physically, and anthemically.
MySpace: Sebastien Grainger
I've never been a huge devotee of the Strokes, but I appreciate their place as one of New York's prominent indie bands. Albert's solo material seems somewhat in the same vein as his regular band, and there's definitely a lot of upside to that. While pretty straightforward rockin', things were kept pretty engaging with a full band effort. The two and three part harmonies were particularly enjoyable, and I'm pretty inclined to check out his album after a fine set.
MySpace: Albert Hammond, Jr.
As Bloc Party took the stage shortly before 10 PM, the crowd rose en masse, and things were pretty much euphoric from then on. The set began, intuitively enough, with "Song For Clay (Disappear Here)," featuring Kele Okereke's croon before erupting into a full-band blast. "Positive Tension" carried the momentum to greater heights, with the crowd providing that incredibly cathartic climax. As on the albums, this energy was deftly diverted into something mellower in "Blue Light" as the band was bathed in the same substance. But as is the case with most live renditions, this song also featured a blazing second half. After a short bit of banter, they band shifted back to A Weekend in the City's "Hunting For Witches," replicating the spliced radio sample and jittery beat.
So far, so great.
Things continued with "Waiting For The 7.18," one of my favorite tracks from the new album. It sounded gigantic, but one of the few flaws in the set prevented it from being totally sublime. For some reason or another, the songs from Weekend didn't feel that immediate, at least compared to the ones off Silent Alarm. This undoubtedly has something to do with my preference - and greater familiarity - for the latter, but on occasion the vocals kind of blended together on the newer songs, and a lot of the meaning was lost. However, the energy was sustained throughout the set, and I'm dumbfounded by the skill that the whole band demonstrates live. The fact that they were able to do so in what was a huge venue - approximately 3,000 seats - is really impressive. What was also impressive was how the end of "7.18" gave way to "Banquet" in a really incredible transition. I can't say enough about this song, and in its live form, it really approaches the transcendent.
Things get a bit hazy post-"Banquet," (I believe "Where Is Home?" followed) but another huge highlight was "This Modern Love." I've really fallen for this track after repeated listens, and I really think it epitomizes Bloc Party. It's yearning romanticism, perhaps overly dramatic as a result, but so sincere and melodic ("I'll pay for you, anytime") that one can't help but appreciate it. Aside, it's a real shame that they didn't play "Sunday," because I really think it's one of the few songs that comes close to encapsulating all those qualities ("I'll love you in the morning/When you're still hung over"). But in another amazing transition, the mass clapping at end of "This Modern Love" led to the crunch "The Prayer," and things continued with gusto.
Later highlights included the idealist "So Here We Are" (complemented by appropriate lighting, as shown above), and "Like Eating Glass," which closed out the main set. We prepared ourselves for the encore - and what an encore it was. "She's Hearing Voices," one of the few songs that didn't click for me in studio form, created a claustrophobic, frantic mood, with Kele dashing around the stage (and into the audience) and proved overwhelming with its "Red pill/blue pill!" chorus. "SXRT" began as a stripped down vocal track, and then was expanded into a dual harmony and soaring instrumental. Finally, the final track we had all been waiting for: "Helicopter." While this muscular live version didn't quite match the nervy energy of the studio recording, it brought a spectacular conclusion to a brilliant set.
All in all, one of the greatest shows I've ever had the pleasure to attend, or for that matter, an evening of songs as good as any live recording I've posted in this blog. And upon exiting into the brisk Harlem air, I was informed that Bloc Party will be playing at Asbury Park Convention Hall on June 7th. Tickets go on sale at noon today.
For a wealth of live recordings, b-sides and demos, check out BlocParty.net.