My brother-in-law parked a bit away from the entrance to the Concourse and gave me some last-minute tips on US gigs – find a place to sit, stay inside, etc. “I’m not dropping you off at the entrance, unless you want me to,” he said.
“Please don’t,” I said. “It’ll be like Almost Famous where you call out, ‘Don’t do drugs!'”
I left the car, got my ticket from Will Call, entered the Concourse, and was immediately overwhelemed with the unfamiliar. There was no food, for one. There were ID check booths so I could drink. There were no cameras allowed. Everyone was with someone. There were no seats.
After walking around awkwardly, I parked myself on the balcony, stage left (‘left flank’, as Kele would eventually call it), and waited.
The first opening act was Smoosh – two blonde girls (ages 13 and 11!) on keyboards and drums. A third girl (looking even younger than the preteens) played bass on two songs or so. Smoosh’s vocalist sounded very much like the vocalist of the Sundays – very pleasant, and coupled with the second voicing of the drummer, their vocals made the otherwise simple music worth it.
The second act was Final Fantasy, and I’d heard about this guy, but he exceeded expectations. He played his violin intro, sampled that, played that back while playing another fill with his violin, and kept doing that until he had all the parts of his song. What amazed me was his instrumentation – it was _beautiful_. His vocals were also nice to hear. As a bonus, he had someone use an overhead projector (OHP to college students) as a sort of puppet show, illustrating his ‘8 types of magic’ theme with symbolic drawings that were nice to watch. He was awesome. He wins over Smoosh by a mile.
(By this time, I had downed a beer [a Heineken, first time. It was okay], and the line to the restrooms was insanely long. Mental note: Don’t drink at gigs like this. Not worth missing songs for.)
At 9:30 pm, Bloc Party came on stage. They started with “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)”, which I thought was a perfect opener for their US tour as they’re promoting their new album anyway. They followed that with “Positive Tension”, happily for me as it’s one of my favorites. Then they rattled off most of their new album and some of their old stuff – “I Still Remember”, which, to my surprise, the crowd liked; “Banquet” (absolutely one of my favorite songs); “This Modern Love” (which Final Fantasy had covered earlier – Bloc Party does it better, of course); “Waiting for 7:18”, “Uniform”, “The Prayer”, “Where Is Home?”, etc. I’m not listing these in order, for sure. They played “So Here We Are” and I wanted to cry, as it’s an emotional song for me.
Performance-wise, I’d been warned by a friend that Bloc Party isn’t particularly exciting to watch – “They just stand there,” he said. They did more than stand, this time – vocalist Kele Okereke ran around and he jumped down to join the crowd once, during “She’s Hearing Voices”. Guitarist Russell Lissack (who looked like the typical Brit rocker, with his hair sharply parted to one side), was rocking it out in the corner. Matt Tong, the drummer, took his shirt off early in the concert as he was obviously doing A LOT of work – Bloc Party plays fast, their songs are drum-heavy, and when they play live they play _faster_. In one of the songs, bassist Gordon Moakes lay down on the ground and didn’t get up for a while – I thought he was doing the ‘play on my back and face the ceiling like a rock star’ bit, but it turns out he really fell over and needed help getting up.
Then they ended with “Like Eating Glass”, which was a huge crowd favorite, and they left the stage.
Of course we all stuck it out and cheered for an encore, which was expected, but what I didn’t expect was they brought out a SECOND drumset, with ‘Bloc Party’ written in front but backwards (the first drum set had it written forwards). So Bloc Party came out again, and the bassist sat at the second drumset, and they played “Sunday” and my jaw just dropped. The two of them played in sync for some parts, and then suddenly would do separate drum parts (Matt obviously doing the super fast stuff that he does so well). But at one point in the song, both drums stop. They looked at each other, drummed in the air (to sync) and then started off together again. Perfect timing. It was amazing.
And most of it was like that – their songs are really tightly written and they performed them just as tight. Sometimes I’d catch myself thinking I was listening to their record, only faster. But the lights helped – sometimes they’d get creative with the lights, especially in emotional songs like “SRXT”.
However, it became apparently obvious that Bloc Party’s second album wasn’t all that. The crowd was full of fans (“This is a better crowd than what we had in Austin,” Kele said), and when they played stuff from their first album, everyone sang along. (“Why’d you have to get…” Kele started, and we all yelled, “…so fucking useless?” Hay, love.) But during the second album songs, people only got crazy during “I Still Remember”, “The Prayer”, and “Uniform”, and not everyone got crazy really, just some people. But EVERYONE got crazy for the first album.
Their second album had a lot of electronic aspects, which meant that on some songs the bassist or guitarist or drummer would stop and literally not do anything for certain parts. These parts weren’t long though, but they looked awkward, for me – why replace a perfectly-talented human with a machine? (The exception would be “Hunting For Witches”, which they’d have a shit of a time replicating only with human voices ;). It was a stark contrast to all their first-album songs, which were always intense and rose up to a climax – never stale. And the members didn’t stand around idly for those either.
They ended their encore with “Helicopter”, which was a great choice too. I’m surprised they didn’t do “Little Thoughts”, but I guess they can’t do everything.
Since they played everything faster than normal, and they have short songs anyway, they finished their main set in an hour and the encore in maybe half an hour. I left the place over a hundred dollars poorer (I bought three shirts, two CDs, and buttons – some of those are gifts though), satisfied with the music, but not particularly blown away. I think it’s because Bloc Party already blows you away with their recorded material that it’s hard to top even themselves.
(On a side note, I told Brett I wouldn’t talk to strangers, but strangers talked to me. The girl in front of me asked me about Smoosh, and the girl behind me asked me about Bloc Party – she’s super nice, she flew her nephew in from Portland to watch them, and she went only to keep an eye on him.)
There were parts that I wished I wasn’t alone, as I kept muttering ‘Putang ina!’ from my breath (that’s like a really really bad Filipino curse phrase, for those who don’t speak the language) and had no one to share the awe with. Part of me also wanted to go down to the floor and dance and go wild like everyone else, but since I’m shorter than everyone here, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything. Oh well. Next time, maybe I can go with someone.