A band has to be hot to sell out a decent-sized venue – in advance – the same week its debut album drops, not to mention selling out in numerous cities. It doesn’t hurt that they played five packed shows at South By Southwest. Nor does being featured in a number of magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, the NME and URB, hurt your image. But what do you expect from a band that a little more than a year ago was without a recording contract?
The biggest buzz band of the year (they may even surpass Franz Ferdinand’s “It” factor of 2004), Bloc Party lives up to the hype their self-titled EP and full-length, Silent Alarm, have garnered. In fact, the claim that many critics are calling Bloc Party the “next” Franz Ferdinand or one of the bands trying to making it to Franz Land is ridiculous. Not only are they in the same peer group and have hit the scene within the same general era, Bloc Party leaps slightly above where Franz set the mark. The (r)evolution in rock is now.
The energy level in Chicago’s hallowed Metro Thursday night was mediocre during the opening sets by Pit-er-Pat and the Ponys (while the latter band did have a few songs that sparked up, overall their sound was somewhat flat and their stage presence was lackluster). But then Bloc Party opened with a supercharged “Like Eating Glass,” that was followed by a thundering version of “Positive Tension” (which includes the all-too-prescient line “something glorious is about to happen”) and a surprising (but welcome) early slot filled by “Banquet.” But when they finally played “She’s Hearing Voices” and “Helicopter” it was like a lightning bolt cracked the ceiling at the venue and punted the set to a higher level.
So many bands, regardless of the energy level of their music, stand on stage and do nothing but play their instruments. The guys in Bloc Party had animation and panache. Lead singer Kele Okereke more or less had a Cheshire’s grin the whole show, but it was his guitar playing that was most impressive. His hands moved at the speed of a humingbird and churned out rhythms so poignant and powerful, it was almost like watching a young Joe Strummer. After the second song, drummer Matt Tong stripped off his T-shirt, making me jealous that I couldn’t do the same (like I said before, the band was hot — and so was the club).
After a quick 40 minutes (it may have been longer, but I don’t think so), the band exited, only to return for a 20-minute, four-song encore. Nothing like getting ‘em hot, getting off and leaving them salivating for more.
One thought that ran through my head was concern for the inevitable sophomore album. Will they be able to equal — or surpass — the madness of Silent Alarm? Can Bloc Party continue to build on their already rapid rise? Thinking back to the early ‘80s, who would’ve thought U2 might have lasted as long as they have – while still dominating music? As long as Bloc Party keeps evolving and being influenced by outside forces, they’ll grow. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot, Kele said, “Rock should excite, should inspire. I want to push what a guitar-rock band can do. In that respect, we’re just beginning.” Amen to that.
For a little taste of the intensity, check out this live MP3 of She’s Hearing Voices, from SXSW.