When a band decides to tour a classic album, it’s often an admission of defeat – reaching for former glories that can’t be repeated, it smacks of an exercise in self-indulgent nostalgia. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case for Bloc Party. Single album tours normally come when an artist is winding down their career, but Bloc Party are only five records into theirs, and the collection they’ve chosen to return to is their debut, Silent Alarm – which is a mere 13 years old. Not to mention that Silent Alarm has an incredible propulsive energy to it, so it seems this tour is more of a pick-me-up so the band can regroup, rather than a cynical cash-in.
Perhaps surprisingly, given that Silent Alarm only grazed the top 30 upon its release, Bloc Party comfortably pack out the 5,500 capacity Hordern Pavilion for two consecutive nights on November 29 and 30. They’ve elected to play the album in reverse order, meaning we’re off to a slow start with the uncharacteristically ponderous ‘Compliments’. Things don’t really get going until the frenetic ‘Luno’, which, seems to be played at an even faster speed than on record. From that point, the rapturous crowd chant back every word of every song and, in some cases, even sing along to guitar hooks too.
On stage the musicianship is effortless. The band recruited a new rhythm section in 2015 (Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes left to be replaced by Louise Bartles and Portland indie-rock band Menomena’s Justin Harris), yet everything here is seamless. In fact, it might be a little too easy for them. Bartles attacks the drums with gusto, but Harris and guitarist Russell Lissack are awkward figures on either side of the stage, giving the impression they’d rather be back in the recording studio. Frontman Kele Okereke is the band’s clear figurehead, but even he has a tendency to look disinterested during the instrumental sections. Between tracks, his patter is minimalist but warm, his deliberate, clipped English tones are a stark contrast to the sweat-drenched enthusiasm of the crowd below him.
You get the sense that none of this really matters though. Be good enough to whip up a crowd into a frenzy with some much-loved songs and you’ve more than fulfilled your remit. And the view from the middle of the floor indicates that most are having the Friday night of their lives. In amongst the mid-’00s spiky punk-funk of ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ and ‘Positive Tension,’ there are more tender moments like ‘Pioneers’ and ‘This Modern Love.’ Despite the guitars being just as distorted and angular, these more introspective songs elicit more of a communal reaction, with groups of friends wrapping their arms around one another and singing into each other’s faces, lost in the shared memories and experiences. The most visceral reaction is reserved for fan favourites ‘Helicopter’ and ‘Banquet’, which get the crowd moving to an extent that it becomes one giant, alcohol-drenched mass. There’s a certain irony in thousands of people coming together to chant lyrics about isolation, apathy and disillusionment, but everyone having too much fun to even begin to care.
A passionate rendition of ‘Like Eating Glass’ rounds off the album, and the band disappear for a short break. This is when the night’s primary issue becomes clear. The majority of fans had come specifically to hear the songs of Silent Alarm, that part of the set had concluded, and we were still less than an hour in. The band returns with a trio of songs from their early days (‘Two More Years,’ ‘Little Thoughts’ and ‘The Prayer’) but the audience is noticeably sparse, and a portion of the crowd were already making their way home.
A triumphant ‘Flux’ looked to have tied up the evening nicely, but the band came out for a second encore, much to the delight of the those who had remained. The song they chose to close the night, ‘Ratchet,’ was a little odd given its place relatively low down in the Bloc Party canon, but the unexpectedly return was enough to keep the good vibes flowing.
Bloc Party certainly delivered when it came to capturing the emotions of Silent Alarm. For 13 glorious tracks, we were all transported back to 2005. Bloc Party have a lot of questions to answer with regards to where they go from here but for the duration of the opening set, it was hard to care about anything but getting completely lost in the moment.
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