Bloc Party at First Avenue, 9/22/12
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Saturday, September 22, 2012
The movie screen retracted toward the ceiling at First Avenue Saturday night, signaling -- as always -- that the show was about to begin. Giant blue lights shone from the front onto an empty stage. A stage that would stay empty for nearly ten minutes before Bloc Party finally made their appearance. Was it rock star arrogance? One last technical snafu that needed to be ironed out? The reason never became clear, but the near-capacity crowd that was starting to get a little restless soon forgot all about it as they opened with "Octopus," the new single from their just-released Four.
They had the crowd's attention early and continued with "Trojan Horse" from their underrated (and little-heard stateside) 2008 release Intimacy and the dark, brooding "Positive Tension" from their nearly note-perfect 2005 debut Silent Alarm, as the lights that had been blue faded to white and flashed so brightly and intensely it reminded of WWII film of carpet bombing from the plane's viewpoint. "Kettling" followed with the same blinding, flashing lights and that bled into an absolutely stunning version of "Banquet" -- the single that made them known to the world -- that promptly made the floor in front of the Mainroom stage explode, which, coupled with the strobe lights, looked both beautiful and terrifying all at once. "V.A.L.I.S", from their underachieving new album followed soon after and they then -- 45 minutes in -- left the stage after "We're Not Good People."
The show ground to a bit of a halt at that point and, for the most part, it didn't really recover. Saturday shows at First Ave. must be done by 10 p.m., to make way for the Too Much Love dance party and there were roughly 20 minutes left on the clock. When lead singer Kele Okereke and company returned he made a comment about it being the "second half" of the show and how it was time to take no prisoners, announcing, "This is a song for fighting to!" as they offered up a fairly limp version of "Ares," with Okereke forgoing his guitar for the second time (he performed "Octopus" the same way), jumping around and at one point doing a somersault. The whole song just seemed off and the antics tacked on, but it was quickly over. There were a couple of other songs the band muddled though and "This Modern Love" redeemed them just a bit as they left the stage once more.
When the band returned, the highlight of the set emerged as they played a version of Prince's classic "I Would Die 4 U" with Okereke signing with bassist/keyboardist Gordon Moakes banging out a perfect synth line. They finished up the set with "Truth" and a blazing version of "Helicopter" that once again had the crowd bursting at the seams, including some crowd surfing at the end.
It shook out to be a middling, slightly odd set, overall. The fact is, Bloc Party's output since their debut has been patchy at best, though they could have culled a more interesting setlist from it than what they offered on Saturday. The wait at the beginning of the show served only to cause the crowd to expect more than we received and the first break/encore simply deflated the show just as it had really started to get going. With most everyone in the room aware of the 10 p.m. sharply-adhered-to ending time, the break just looked like empty, rock-star posturing for no other reason than the fact that they could. Much like what most everyone has been saying about Bloc Party for years now: it was ok, but it could have been a lot better.
Critic's Bias: I saw Bloc Party on their first tour in 2005, falling in love with Silent Alarm that year. Since, I have been mostly unimpressed with their output but wanted to see how the band had grown. I was surprised to discover both that the band has only slightly more stage presence than they did in '05 and that they are painfully unaware that Bloc Party is not a band suited for grand-scale rock-star moves in the vein of a U2 arena show.
The Crowd: No specific demographic stood out, though it seemed the crowd came more alive when the songs from Silent Alarm surfaced, so, people who were hoping for more than they got, maybe.
Overheard In The Crowd: A girl near the front of the stage yelled "I love your nipples!" so loudly at Okereke I wouldn't be surprised if they heard it at Target Center.
Notebook Dump: "Banquet" is still this band's best song, but the fact that nothing in their catalog can touch it seven years after it's release is not a good sign.
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