Bloc Party - The Olympia, London - 11/04/09
20 Apr 2009
"the stars of the evening come out to a generous round of applause and it really starts to feel like something amazing is about to happen. except... it doesn't. to anyone who isn't a massive bloc party fan it would be easy to start poking some serious holes in the way things pan out. it appears initially that this show is exactly what it felt like from the moment i walked through the door - a dry run at a festival slot..."
This is the first time I've ever been to Olympia and I'm immediately impressed with the ascetics of the building. As I wander in, the first thing I notice is that the whole place feels like a festival, complete with beer in cardboard cups, dodgy looking hot dog stalls and heaps of over priced merchandise. Used more often than not as a conference centre for trade fairs, the room has an amazingly large floor space and tremendously high ceiling, only adding to the momentous feel of the occasion. People are milling around, sitting in circles and having a chin wag as Wet Paint make an awful lot of noise in the background. The light fades and the sense of anticipation heightens as I'm sucked further and further into the moment, away from the mundane world outside.
From releasing their 'classic' first album Silent Alarm through to their 'difficult' second record A Weekend In The City, right up to their 'experimental' third LP Intimacy, Bloc Party appear to have followed the blueprint. The band are gearing up for a mammoth world tour that takes them from America through Japan across Europe and back to the UK for the Reading Festival, where they formed exactly 10 years ago to the day. Only taking one month off in September before they hit the road again, servicing everywhere from Blackpool to Southend as part of their conclusive 'Bloctober' UK tour. These two dates in London mark an important point in the bands history - as a fan I'm largely there to show my support and congratulate the unstoppable force that is Kele Okereke, Russel Lissack, Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong for getting this far. I'm also here to see if they're ready for the next level, after witnessing the band just manage to pull off a less than convincing set a bit higher up the bill at 2008's Reading Festival, are they ready to play second fiddle to Radiohead on their 10th anniversary?
Foals open the evening as a great warm up act, their tight musicianship is an impressive facet of their performance, playing into the welcoming hands of the sold out crowd. I managed to miss every opportunity I had to see them last year and their renditions of 'Two Steps, Twice' and 'Balloons' make me feel increasingly bad about that fact. They have the look of a band who know what they're doing, which adds an important degree of impetus to the evenings proceedings. Yannis Philippakis tends to his ego as he basks in the warmth of the solitary spotlight illuminating front stage, commanding his backline like a well oiled regiment. A full run through of Antidotes restores my faith in the venues sonic qualities; which had started to feel a bit too cavernous as an arena for live music.
The stars of the evening come out to a generous round of applause and it really starts to feel like something amazing is about to happen. Except... it doesn't. To anyone who isn't a massive Bloc Party fan it would be easy to start poking some serious holes in the way things pan out. It appears that this show is exactly what it felt like from the moment I walked through the door, a dry run at a festival slot. The band have enough material now to justify their position so high up the main stage bill and maybe this somewhat odd pair of gigs in front of a home town crowd are a great way of testing the water before they commit to the festival season. This idea's backed up when I compare the changes in the set list over the two nights; I wasn't surprised to find out that 'Where Is Home?' has been scrubbed off the list - it always has been and always will be an album track.
But this wasn't just a dry run at a festival set - it was also the bands home coming gig and that wasn't going to go by without having some influence on the way things shaped up; especially on the songs that both band and crowd are more familiar with. 'Hunting for Witches', 'Positive Tension' and 'Helicopter' were all belted out with ferocious passion from the band and gleefully lapped up by the high energy London audience.
After a set of ups and downs, starts and stops, crowd pleasers and crowd teasers with Intimacy's electronic elements ultimately bedding in well their other material, it was time to see what the band had up their sleeve as an encore. And if there's one thing to be learnt from this evening, it's this: lasers = f**king awesome, no matter what the occasion is. The light show that the band produce as their party piece is a fantastic end to the evening, complimenting the electronic edge of new single 'Ares' and the tried and tested anthemic appeal of 'Flux'. By this point you feel the band have reached top gear, there's no more second guessing what the next track's going to be, it's a flat out race to the end. In these frantic 10 minutes or so as I hurl myself around, I start to forget some of the weaknesses I feel like I've witnessed tonight, I stop being so critical and just enjoy myself.
After fighting our way out of the sea of sweaty bodies, there's still a small feeling of un-fulfilment that niggles away inside of me. Despite an impressive gig in an impressive venue, I can't help but place it all in the context of the grander scheme of things and although I don't think this is the finished product, I'm still overjoyed to be a part of the process. Witnessing a band that titter on the edge of something amazing is a powerful experience and even if they're not quite there just yet, they're certainly well on their way to ironing out the creases and making their performances this summer something truly spectacular.