Over the New Year’s long weekend, while lots of revellers were commuting home fatigued from various Fallsing, I heard Stacy Gougoulis, host of Weekend Arvos on Triple J, say that Foals had chagrined some of the festival revellers by not playing some of the classics during their sets. It crossed my mind at the time that us music lovers have become so entitled in our live experience that we now tend to judge a concert by what songs aren’t played, rather than the ones we hear and enjoy and sing along to or perhaps discover for the first time, for greater exploration on Spotify or Apple Music in that car ride home.
Bloc Party was one of the bands on this Falls bandwagon. The troupe, headed by the mercurial, mysterious, charismatic Kele Okereke, a Liverpudlian by birth with Nigerian roots and a London education, visited Australia to play the back catalogue, belt out prevailing radio hit The Love Within and give us a taste of forthcoming album, their fifth, Hymns.
As is the way with the hot indie bands of the Naughties, Bloc Party tends to revolve around Kele like Modest Mouse does Isaac Brock and The Shins James Mercer and The Decemberists Colin Meloy. There is something incredibly refreshing about how Kele will pushback when asked assinine questions about breakfast or his sneakers but will be transparent and eloquent when talking about the challenges of coming out to his conservative parents.
“My parents are super-Catholic and they came from a culture in Nigeria where there weren’t any visible gay people who were out and who were happy,” Kele told the most appositely titled upstart gay journal Butt in 2010. I left home when I was 20. My parents threw me out.
“My parents are getting older and I didn’t like the idea that they could possibly die without knowing something that is a big part of my life. This year I’ve confronted my father and we’ve been talking about it. It’s not easy. It’s not easy at all. But I know that they love me and I love them and I know this by their actions.”
Whatever worries Kele had in his part about his identity do not transcend into the visceral stage presence he projects to a large though not sold out crowd at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. He wears a tightfitting black shirt and black jeans, his hair is cut short and his singing tends to be into a microphone on a stand while playing a variety of guitars and, later, keys. Joining him on this tour is his current cabal: Russell Lissack (who has done some touring work with seminal Northern Irish alt-rockers Ash and has his own Wikipedia page), Justin Harris and Louise Bartle. The supporting players are competent enough and seem to be enjoying themselves but, like a cliche about good referees in soccer and wicketkeepers in cricket, these outstanding performances are judged retrospectively, by the noticing of the absence of errors and not by any attention-grabbing flaunting of talent, lest Kele be distracted or we distracted from him.
Joining me to see Bloc Party was my schoolfriend Damien. Before the concert we sat at the bar at Bar Racuda, which faces the theatre directly across Enmore Road and enjoyed, not Fi Sh, but spicy Italian salami and jamon iberico, both served with warm pita bread cut into isosceles triangles with a, say, 15-degree point (I didn’t have my protractor with me), and narrow gherkin cylinders about the size of Triple A batteries. $9 each and scrumptious. I washed it down with a mineral water that was sufficiently minerally and refreshingly watery. Damien had the first Aperol Spritz of his life and said it was disgusting.
While mired in the Enmore’s sticky pile carpet dancefloor (I always feel like I’m going to descend into the Enmore’s basement, like the carpet is quicksand; its constitution’s loadbearing capacity corrupted by years of spilt overpriced beer, headache inducing white wine and plenty more illicit stuff besides) and waiting for the house lights to dim, Damien and I played that game where you say what songs you most want to hear the band of the day play for y0u. Mine were The Prayer and I Still Remember, both off Bloc Party’s easy-as-pie Difficult Second Album A Weekend In The City. The former is about wanting recognition for a job well done and not being ashamed to seek it and the second track, and the album title itself, are redolent of furtive dirty weekends in the Big Smoke; exploring new alleys and ideas and music and people. I still remember the first time I heard I Still Remember. It was at the denouement of a journey back to uni in Canberra from a roadtrip to Ardlethan Picnic Races with two of my best friends, and when we returned to mine and I alighted with my bag, I got one of them to keep listening to Triple J for the back announce so he could text me the title and artist. Damien is not as big a fan as me — he came along as my plus one because the tickets were comped now I’m kinda now a minor music industry player (up to the Y-List from the Z-List, anyway) — but I know he appreciates a good live show and would recognise Bloc Party’s bigger radio hits.
The show was outstanding. After opening up with unknown The Good News off Hymns (always clever to stick in a newie on top when everyone is still amped up or filing in), the Party to moved through crowd faves Hunting For Witches and Positive Tension, sandwiching another debutant called Virtue. Soon we were being nourished by the Less Than Zero-inspired Weekend In The City effort Song For Clay (Disappear Here) and BP’s original breakout hit Banquet. It was delicious fare and it was being savoured by a raucous crowd that included a couple of one-man moshpits and even some sustained crowdsurfing, which is becoming rarer and rarer at all but the most agricultural hard rock gigs.
Up in the nosebleeds, where my spy Steve was keeping tabs on the geriatrics who prefer a reservation number on their ticket (and I am occasionally one of them too!), the comfort of seats was being sublimated to the comfort of strangers, as dancing and revelry took over, so much so that Kele paid tribute to the fans at risk of falling from the balcony, such was their energetic connection to the music.
When Kele introduced Different Drugs as one his favourite tracks off the new record, there was a shifting in the crowd as several people exited to the bathroom or the atrium bars. I hope they were back in time for the powerful run of Octopus and So He Begins To Lie from Four and then the prenominate The Love Within — and everyone already knew all the words to this instant classic — and the main act closer Ratchet (“and get rat shit” screams the throng in Keleharmony).
After a short break the foursome returned for an encore of So Real (so boring to play a new track during the encore: we want to make exciting singalong memories!) and then Helicopter, Flux and This Modern Love. Then a group hug and bow and a thank you for spending the first weekend of 2016 with Bloc Party (even though it was neither the weekend nor the first) and the house lights.
I don’t want to sound like those entitled Foals foragers whinging about no Bad Habit(s) but I was a little miffed to not hear I Still Remember or The Prayer, which is Bloc Party’s only bona fide hit in Australia. On the brightside, the new tracks sounded pretty good and I’m looking forward to listening to the full LP when Hymns drops on 29 January 2016.
In the Uber X ride home, I sang along to every song being played on Nova. Damien ordered it to say thanks for the free tickets, so at the end I had to beg the driver to not downstar his rating because of my exuberant mood and tonedeafness. They gave each other five stars and that’s how I feel about Bloc Party live. Maybe take half off for not remembering.