52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Monday, October 17, 2005

And you haven't got the time to remember how it was

Bloc Party @ Nottingham Rock City, 16th October 2005

Bloc Party must be in the running for the most talked about new band of the last 12 months. I first saw them on Jools Holland back in December 2004. I’d taped the show, and was selectively working my way through the acts – winding past Elton John, but pausing to watch Keane and then moving on to Interpol. Bloc Party were on, making their first TV appearance I think, and as they launched into “Helicopter”, I thought that I would give them 1 minute to impress me before I hit fast forward and went looking for Interpol’s second song. I never hit that button, and was frozen to the spot by the sheer energy of the band’s performance. The album didn’t come out until February, but I downloaded “Helicopter” from iTunes almost immediately, and then greedily hunted out all the other MP3s that I could find to satisfy my urge to hear as much of this band as I could. I was hardly the only person that the band had this impact on, and they were quickly hyped up as the “next big thing” for 2005. The album was going to be a dead cert.

I think the tickets for this gig actually went on sale about the same time as their debut album was released, when the hype about them (“probably the greatest band anywhere in the world, ever!” -- the NME, probably) was at its peak. Naturally, it quickly sold out – but I was still smarting at missing out on seeing the band when I had turned my nose up at the chance to see the NME tour at the same venue in January (on a bill also featuring The Futureheads, the Kaiser Chiefs and the Killers – Doh!) so there was no chance I was going to miss out this time around, and I snapped up a pair of tickets as soon as they came on sale. All I then had to do was to sit on my hands and wait for October. I saw the band live for the first time at Glastonbury in June, and although they were pretty good, they were a little sterile sounding and it felt as though they were simply running through their album in front of a big crowd. I was looking forward to seeing them in a smaller venue (Rock City has a capacity of about 2000 people, I think).

Rock City is great when it’s full. The balcony and the little steps up from the dancefloor to the two bars turn it into a bear pit, with people hanging off every available space, baying for blood. By the time Lord B and I arrived, the whole venue was heaving, although since the refit and the installation of a new air conditioner, sadly you don’t get sweat dripping off the ceiling anymore. Once again, we’d missed the support, but were there in plenty of time to get a drink and settle in for the main event.

For me, Bloc Party will always be about the drummer. Matt Tong’s epileptic drumming is the lynchpin of the band’s sound, and is the reason why I am totally unable to tap my foot in time to their music. Considering his drumming is so frantic, he actually looks remarkably composed behind his kit. Perhaps, like a swan, he’s paddling furiously underneath the surface. The other key component of the Bloc Party sound, of course, is Kele Okoreke’s yelp. The broadsheets seem to think it’s remarkable to find a black man fronting a guitar band, and there is apparently much idle tittle-tattle about his sexuality (who cares, on both counts). He’s a natural though, and although he was only 24 last week, he’s now comfortable enough with his audience to chat with us easily between songs, to instruct us when to dance and to dedicate a song to a fellow Libran in the crowd when he discovers that it’s his birthday (it doesn’t sound like much, but Bob Dylan doesn’t bother with any of that stuff, and he's been doing it for years....).

They were really good. The crowd were really up for it and the band looked like they were enjoying themselves – both of which have a huge impact on the atmosphere of any concert. They’ve got the songs too: ‘So Here We Are’, ‘Banquet’, ‘Like Eating Glass’, ‘This Modern Love’, current single ‘Two More Years’, ‘Helicopter’….. In a little over an hour, they basically played their way through the whole of ‘Silent Alarm’ and a few b-sides, plus the new single. Much the same as their Glastonbury set, only a whole lot more dynamic. I thought that they lost a bit of momentum towards the end of the set, but all in all, they were ace. If you're into Gang of Four, then you've probably heard it all before, it's true, but I still thought they were great. You know how I generally feel on Sunday evenings, but it seems that an hour or so spent listening to the surging, stuttering, spikey Bloc Party sound is a great way to beat those Sunday blues and to end the weekend on a high.

They were also extremely loud, as I discovered as soon as they had finished playing and not only were my ears whistling in protest, but they also felt slightly blocked. Ah well. The joys of live music, eh?

My next gig is something of a change of pace: KT Tunstall on 31st October.


  • At 7:17 pm, Blogger Flash said…

    Odd, I know, but I've not yet heard a single track by Bloc Party. I assume I'm missing out.

  • At 7:43 pm, Blogger the urban fox said…

    Gay AND black?! OH MY GOD!

    *writes to Daily Mail, in green ink*

  • At 8:19 pm, Blogger HistoryGeek said…

    Sounds amazing! I'm glad they helped with the Sunday blues.

  • At 8:40 pm, Blogger the urban fox said…

    Like so many contemporary guitar bands, I can't get excited about Bloc Party. They're filed under S for Seen It All Before chez moi.

    But I sure am glad you fellas had a fine ol' night.

  • At 9:11 pm, Blogger Jenni said…

    Imagine that...Fox dislikes a guitar band. I'm sensing a theme here.

  • At 9:31 pm, Blogger the urban fox said…

    The theme is "derivative" rather than "guitars", but I agree the two frequently overlap.

  • At 9:41 pm, Blogger LB said…

    my ears still hurt.

    I'm not a huge fan, to be honest, but I thought they were good, actually.

    I was wondering if he was gay, actually. Perhaps they'll do a cover of "It's A Sin" next.

  • At 9:48 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    foxy - is anything truly original any more?


    *flounces dramatically out of the room, handkerchief held across forehead*

  • At 9:56 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    .... and of course, you're quite right. This lot are extremely reminiscent of almost every new wave act you could think of, and Gang Of Four in particular. But I still find this kind of thing exhilirating live, and when it's done well (as it was last night) it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

    Then again, almost everything I like is influenced to some degree by something that has gone before it. Be that Interpol and their Joy Division obsession, or John Irving and his desperate desire to be as good at the great family narrative as Dickens.

    To refine my point, is anything truly original? can anything ever be more than the sum of its influences?

    I think yes.

    I'm not saying it's true of Bloc Party, particularly.

    I'm interested to hear what anyone else thinks though.


  • At 11:51 pm, Blogger Damo said…

    I've never heard Gang of Four, but I know this...

    I read that The Futureheads are great, but they've ripped off Gang of Four. And I read that Bloc Party are great, but they've ripped off Gang of Four.

    The Futureheads and Bloc Party sound nothing like each other.

    I'm confused.

  • At 12:00 am, Blogger HistoryGeek said…

    I wholeheartedly agree with you ST. Everything is derivitive (can humans really ever get outside their own context, however they define it), but that does not mean that it cannot stand out as a beacon of the next phase of...something.

    You look at something like science. It too is derivitive of the work of the past. But does that stop the scientist from asking questions about what's next, what's bigger, what else can this do. (It's why I think that they are actually creative artists in their own fields.)

    So, too, art, in it's many forms must continue to strive for a new level. It's obviously so much more subjective, but that's okay.

  • At 12:03 am, Blogger Damo said…

    I'm very base level - does my foot tap? Yes? I like.

  • At 12:15 am, Blogger red one said…

    *makes pile of bricks in the corner*


  • At 12:27 am, Blogger John McClure said…

    Since when is it the job of an artist (in any media) to create something new rather than to open your senses to what's been there all along?

    Originality, if it does exist, is no benchmark of quality.

    If they are cheaply ripping off something better then shame on them, but if all they're doing is putting smiles on faces and taps in feet by taking something, which existed before they arrived on the scene and will continue to exist long after they have departed, and doing it well, then good luck to them.

    If originality were paramount, we would all be sitting at home listening to 'diffucult' jazz and furrowing our brows.

    I would rather be in a building where the ceiling perspires and the drummer sounds like he's having a siezure.

  • At 12:38 am, Blogger Turners in the Country said…

    It's difficult to be original musically, but it's certainly possible. There are plenty of bands out there creating original sounds; Kings of Leon and Arcade Fire come to mind, though I suppose if we dissect them enough we could probably debate that too. I think half the problem with these derivatives is that lazy music journalists don't take the time to develop the vocabulary to aptly describe new music, or in an attempt to get people to relate to the sound they compare it to another sound. And then those comparisons stick, whether they were actually accurate in the first place or not is suddenly irrelevant. If NME says it, it MUST be true!!

  • At 3:15 am, Blogger HistoryGeek said…

    Since when is it the job of an artist (in any media) to create something new rather than to open your senses to what's been there all along?

    But isn't opening "your senses to what's been there all along" new every time. Perhaps I'm a wide eyed idealist, but every time I am awakened by art (in any media), even if it is derivative of something else, for me it is new (even when it is an artist's reinterpretation of existing works...their particular energy will infuse it and it will be new).

    That's what I meant by taking it to a new level...it doesn't mean you have to listen to difficult jazz.

  • At 8:29 am, Blogger the urban fox said…

    I don't ask for novelty value. I ask for a spark, an essence, a feeling that the music is more than the sum of its influences. It is an intangible quality, but it amounts to a sense that the band or artist in question is not merely a tribute band to (for example) their favourite post-punk bands, as is the fashion of the moment, or their big brother's record collection.

    I'm not going to argue about it, you are all quite within your rights to like who you like for whatever reasons you choose, just as I am.

  • At 8:29 am, Blogger LB said…

    I'm with Spin. I don't care that Steps' "Love's Got A Hold Of My Heart" sounds like a million other records and/or bands, it's an original song in its own right.

    (not a great example, admittedly).

    Only Bloc Party have done "So Here We Are" which therefore makes it an original piece of work. Even though I agree their sound is not particularly original - but is anyone's? really?

  • At 8:33 am, Blogger the urban fox said…

    PS: "Lazy music journalists" = journalists working for corporate music media with editors and managing directors who wouldn't know a good artist if it turned up on their doorstep clutching demos of the best album ever made. Journalists don't often get a say in the music they cover. Editors often speak directly to PRs. Journalists are then commissioned according to the sort of angle the editor wants. In some super-lame publications, they are explicitly told what angle to use by their editor. "Do we like Hard-Fi this week?" "Yeah, make them Single of the Week."

    Although anyone who reads the NME for inspiration deserves everything they get. Surely nobody still does?!

  • At 9:13 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    Does anyone read the NME for inspiration?

    Allow me to refer you to this very funny piece from the brand new (and highly recommended) blog, "The Art of Noise".


  • At 9:18 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    (and Damo - actually, at a base level, I reckon that the futureheads do sound similar to Bloc Party --- it's in the guitars. Of course, if you take into account their other elements - their accents for starters - then they sound quite distinct)

    Gang Of Four have just released some re-recordings of their biggest hits haven't they?

    I'm familiar with them, but only in a vague "that's Gang of Four" kind of way... I don't actually own any. If you believe what you read at the moment, they must be the most influential band ever, right? In the same way that Wire were briefly for the 10 seconds that Elastica were the hottest band in the country.


  • At 9:19 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    I think the Arcade Fire sound like Mercury Rev playing New Order songs.


  • At 9:36 am, Blogger Damo said…

    The Arcade Fire sound a lot like Talking Heads at times. In case we didn't notice, they got David Byrne to sing on one of their B-sides.

    Fox is right about NME though. For a while, they had us believe that The Others were people-power messiahs. Now they've forgotten they exist... when they should have ignored them in the first place.

    I do still read NME. Goodness knows why. Lack of alternative. Everytime I say that, someone says 'the web' (which means eye-strain... I like sitting down with a paper) or certain fanzines (which wouldn't be seen dead talking about anything I like if it has found popular appeal).

  • At 9:37 am, Blogger Damo said…

    Forgot to add that in spite (or perhaps because) of my Arcade Fire observation above, it's my album of the year so far...

  • At 1:31 pm, Blogger LB said…

    i'd love to hear Mercury Rev do "World In Motion", particularly if they get John Barn-es back for the rap

  • At 1:36 pm, Blogger Ben said…

    Damo: I'm with you on The Arcade Fire - absolutely mindblowing. If you're looking for a fanzine that does discuss some overground stuff, allow me to plug my friend's Vanity Project - www.vanityproject.co.uk. It comes out in conventional paper issues but is also all available online. Mostly unsigned and underground acts, but a few recognisable names too.

    ST: Cheers for your kind words about The Art Of Noise. And - to say something strictly on-topic - I too was pretty disappointed with Bloc Party at Glastonbury. I imagine they'd be much better in a confined space, but tickets for this tour had long since sold out by the time I was thinking I'd like to see them in that environment. I also have to say that the album has slipped a little in my reckoning - earlier in the year it was right up there, but now I think it's bettered by the slightly less feted Maximo Park album as well as several others from America and elsewhere in the album of the year stakes. Perhaps it's time to give it another few spins?

  • At 2:30 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    Speaking of albums slipping in my estimation --- I listened to the Bravery again the other day. I was struck by how in the main it all sounded very mediocre and like a bad rock 80s pastiche. Still. I'm seeing them at Rock City in a few weeks time, so I'll give them a chance to prove me wrong live.

    I might just have been having a bad day, and I was being even more hyper-critical than usual about everything I listened to. I even got a bit of a grump on when listened to "X&Y", and got all irritated by Chris Martin's lyrical repetition.

    Perhaps it was just a moment of clarity, eh?

    I've picked the Hard Fi album up again in the last couple of days though. Didn't make much impression on me initially, but on reflection I'm really starting to think that these lads have something.


  • At 4:14 pm, Blogger Flash said…

    Damn right about Hard Fi ST, those guys have something very special (IMHO)

  • At 5:58 pm, Blogger Turners in the Country said…

    I think it was a moment of clarity. I, too, picked up X&Y last week after not having listened to it for a few months (that in itself should speak to the quality of the album) and I was bored bored bored. A friend of mine reckons Coldplay have made an album for their egos with X&Y, just like Oasis did on their third album (and I know how much you loved that one ST).

    Regarding Arcade Fire, if you ever have the opportunity to see them live, don't pass it up. Their onstage performances are absolute chaos, and the music the chaos produces will blow you away. The album only hints at how excellent they are live.

  • At 8:41 pm, Blogger John McClure said…

    Make room on the bandwagon there, I'm jumping on. About a week ago, I noticed that I was skipping X&Y songs as I shuffled - in itself no condemnation; I skip plenty of good tunes - but I noticed I was doing it and gave the album another listen.

    Boring is exactly the word I came up with.

    I'll qualify that though. I went through similar things with Parachutes and Rush of Blood. I am mostly to blame for listening all three albums to death in the first place. The first two I have since revisited several times and enjoyed thoroughly again. I'm hoping X&Y proves similar.

  • At 6:51 pm, Blogger Ali said…

    I literally wept when I heard X&Y. I thought it was a shoddy disaster when I first bought it, and I haven't listened to it since.

    It was the sound of a band dying.

    I speculated at the time that it was either Paltrow or drugs that had caused this but whatever the reason, what it was that made them great, was lost.


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