Wednesday, August 2, 2006

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT: Bloc Party

McCarren Park Pool: Brooklyn, NY, 7/29/06
Coachella Festival: Indio, CA, 4/30/06

Kele Okereke of Bloc Party performing at Coachella Festival

Drop everything. I mean it! Drop everything right now and go see Bloc Party.

I followed that very advice the day I bought my plane ticket to Cali to catch Bloc Party's set @ Coachella. I traveled from the East Coast to the left coast for them, and let me tell you, it was well worth it. Granted, it's not every band that makes me dig deep into my pockets like that for a 40-minute set. Of course, I got the rest of Coachella with the deal, so in the end, I consider it quite a bargain, actually.

Kele Okereke & Matt Tong of Bloc Party performing at Coachella Festival

I dropped everything again a month or so ago, the moment I learned tix were going on sale for the New York stop on their new North American tour. I would have stood in line overnight in the rain, if I'd had to. (Thank God & Ticket Connect Alert, I didn't have to.) And again, as that NY show held last weekend at Brooklyn's McCarren Park Pool proved, it was worth the ticket vigilance, and would have been worth the overnight soak, as well.

Bloc Party are a blistering hot live band. Not only do they play scorching dance rock, but they also seem to be magnetically drawn to outdoor shows on 95+ degree days, making them, literally, blistering hot. Maybe the poor sods get enough of the sodden British weather that any hint of a parched desert or heat-cracked concrete pool basin sounds like a sorely needed vacation to the lanky lads.

Gluttons for punishment? Gluttons for our oh-so-modern love? Whatever the case, the heat didn't seem to phase the band at all. They served up an energy level so immediately infectious that the crowd was compelled to return it in kind. And with both their McCarren & Coachella sets, that was no mean feat, considering the crowd had been baking in the sun over the course of an already music-filled day before they finally appeared. Any ass-dragging was immediately banished the moment they took the stage.

Their raucus, unflagging energy is only part of the story with Bloc Party. They are a solid band of musicians who really deliver the goods live. Kele Okereke is a powerful frontman - not because of any virtuoso guitar playing or superlative vocal chops. No, he's more of a happy madman with a talent for connecting with the crowd, concocting catchy hooks, and proving he's got the blood of a true performer coursing through his veins. His grin alone could light up a moonless night. And when he launches into his brilliantly memorable hooks, the entire crowd feels compelled to shout along to every word with nutty abandon. Which just makes Kele grin all the more.

Guitarist Russell Lissack and bass-man Gordon Moakes both seem most comfortable letting Kele have the limelight. But make no mistake - their musicianship proves they are no shrinking violets. Wielding a Fender Telecaster with its trademark treble that can cut through any bassy, drum-heavy din, Russell is largely responsible for Bloc Party's moody, sometimes ambient sound. With his face obscured by a sandy swathe of hair, his unassuming stance belies the part he plays in delivering that Bloc Party punch and power. Similarly, Gordon, on his Fender P-Bass, hangs back to let others handle the showmanship. But I find it's his bass lines that I'm humming along with, when I'm not engaged in a fist-pumping chant with Kele. Lo and behold, I was pleased as ablindsiding punch to find him pickless, playing with his fingers - a rare sight in punk pop and dance rock circles.

Meanwhile, I must admit I've saved the best for last. Allow me to wax rhapsodic about the wunderkind that is Matt Tong. (*gush*) Probably the best drummer of any band I've seen in the last several years, Matt blows my mind. I may be going out on a limb when I say this, but take the vocals out of the mix, and it's the drums that define Bloc Party's sound. That's not to say that my beloved Russell, Gordon and Kele are any less talented or integral as musicians. But take away Matt Tong, and it just wouldn't sound like Bloc Party. OK, there, I've said it. (Had to get that off my chest.) Meanwhile, as a live drummer, he's head-spinningly good... and fast! I have no idea how he maintains that level of speed, intensity and complexity for 40 minutes (Coachella), let alone a headlining gig of an hour and a half (McCarren Park Pool)! Can he possibly be human? Matt, you stun and amaze.

Contemplate for a moment the joy and sheer rock bluster of Positive Tension's opening moments. The pogoing heads at the band's feet. The crowd nearly drowning out Kele's vocals. A sea of hands clapping overhead without the band having to ask for it. They're on fire.

And now you have the slightest inkling what it feels like to be part of a Bloc Party audience. Can I please have a time machine to travel back in time to experience it again? (Though maybe this time I'll bring some sort of personal coolant device.)

Like I said, drop what you're doing. Drop what you're doing right now, and run, don't walk, to your nearest ticketing site and buy tickets for Bloc Party's US tour. You won't regret it. On the contrary, you'll want to relive it.

Kele Okereke & Russell Lissack of Bloc Party performing at Coachella Festival

1 comment:

mcshan2 said...

Dang...I'm insanely jealous now!  Of course they are only playing their last few shows on the west coast but in awesome venues. I can't say enough about how great it is to see a band in either the Greek Theatre in LA or Berkeley -- I've spent plenty a night seeing shows in both places.  If only my jet wasn't in the shop so I could fly over...sigh, guess I'll have to be patient and wait for the next tour.