Bloc Party, a name that triggers elated nostalgia for those who embraced seminal album Silent Alarm as teens, has undergone major surgery. But is it a convincing facelift of no regrets, or a botched nip and tuck job? Imagine a BLT without the bacon. Then remove one of the slices of bread. Considering exactly half the original band members are missing, this sick sandwich sacrilege goes some way to painting the current situation – kind of.
No discredit to the new fillings, not mere fillers. Bassist Justin Harris’ adaptability was quickly on show as he picked up a baritone saxophone to support Kele’s vocals in the loop-laden ‘Mercury’. The You Tube-scouted Louise Bartle probably has the toughest job of all, however, tasked with filling the shoes of Matt Tong, one of indie’s standout drummers since the millennium.
But with new band members comes new material, and the intimate Village Underground provided an opportunity to road test new album Hymns. An online stream went live only hours before the gig, hardly giving fans time to acquaint themselves, and like most of their previous follow-up albums Hymns will take some bedding in, based on the lukewarm reception here.
Opener ‘The Good News’ set a sauntering pace for the night’s live premieres, which on the whole displayed less ecstatic emotion, and more mature introspection (aren’t we too old for moshing now?). The chirpy guitars of ‘Into The Earth’ sounded like something you’d play on an American road trip (a diversion from the familiar), while ‘Only He Can Heal Me’ leaves the biggest impression with its holy incantations. Otherwise the songwriting is a bit predictable.
Whatever happens to the shelf-life of Hymns though, Kele may be confident that they can rely on older songs to spark a crowd, as proven by mosh pits breaking out right on cue for the likes of ‘Banquet’, ‘Song for Clay (Disappear Here)’ and ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ – tracks founded around Tong’s consummate drumming skills.
Then there was the encore, which nearly didn’t happen. It was as if the crowd just accepted the gig was over, temporarily forgetting their customary role of baying for ‘one more tune’. After ghosting back on, the band slipped into the intimacy of ‘Fortress’, a strangely down-tempo start to the encore when the whole room was craving a fiercer finale.
“East London, do you like bangers?” Kele finally asked, before fixing the mood with the swaggering ‘Ratchet’ and closing on crowd-pleaser, ‘This Modern Love’. This is no longer the same Bloc Party that rips into the spurring ‘Helicopter’ as they please, a noticeable absentee.
Seventeen years have passed since the band first formed, 11 since their first album – time it seems is the only silent alarm. And while Bloc Party are still fun to watch, the new LP fails to deliver anything really special to their live show that the old guard didn’t already possess. Anyway, who said we’re too old to mosh?
Bloc Party played at Village Underground on 26 January.