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April 8, 2005

Brit rockers bring their Bloc Party to America but check politics at the door

The half of the music press that's not too busy proclaiming the Kaiser Chiefs as the "next Franz Ferdinand" are lauding the exact same accolade upon Bloc Party. Mind you, they're wrong, for the most part, and if a British song is to be this year's answer to "Take Me Out," then the odds are it will be the Kaiser Chiefs' "I Predict a Riot," and not so much Bloc Party's "Banquet." Indeed, the one obvious similarity between Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party is that they both hail from the same island (but not the same country); after that it becomes hard to think of other good grounds upon which to make comparisons, save for the fact that they both put on lovely live shows.

Admittedly, seeing Bloc Party at the Metro on Thursday was not the gig of a lifetime, but it was a good show all the same. After another hurried opening act, the second opener, Chicago-based the Ponys, were good, but sounded live just like Bloc Party does on record—which was a bit disconcerting, as Silent Alarm is full of electronic clicks and looped riffs that do not seem to lend themselves to live performances. Bloc Party came onstage 20 minutes ahead of schedule to an audience eager to behold one of the latest sensations from across the ocean.

Their name is a bit subversive, and some of their lyrics too (amongst some thinly veiled references to the Bush administration, "Helicopter" incites one to "stop being so American!"), but on stage, Bloc Party, like many other recent British bands, are just a bunch of kids out to play their songs and have a good time, thankfully choosing to leave their personal politics backstage. Lead singer/guitarist Kele Okereke bantered with the crowd repeatedly between songs, as did bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong; even second guitarist Russell Lissack, constantly hidden by his trademark asymmetric fringe (which is apparently as popular as the band itself back in England) and shy to the point of having no microphone in front of him, seemed to be enjoying himself.

If Bloc Party's set was brief-nine songs, some of which came from the self-titled EP which caused their rise to prominence in the U.K. last year, and then four more as an encore--it was also infused with jovial energy. Whereas both openers had been somewhat listless and insular, hardly even bothering to thank the crowd, Okereke and his fellow band mates have mastered the art of performing in front of a crowd, even when faced with the Metro's interesting acoustics, which distorted most of their spoken words far beyond the point of recognition but was much more lenient with their songs. Traipsing across the stage with their guitars whenever not on vocal duty, Okereke and Moakes both led the audience in rounds of clapping, dedicated songs to assorted family members ("So Here We Are," for example, was dedicated to Moakes' father), with Okereke going so far as to don the lei he was proffered by an audience member near the end of the set, always smiling.

Whether Bloc Party have it in them to become the next Franz Ferdinand or not remains to be seen, but for the purposes of this review, that is beside the point. So long as Okereke and the rest of the band continue to enjoy their jobs and do not succumb to the lure of the easy, sloppy sophomore album, whenever that comes, the odds are that they will continue to make Britpop lovers want to party.