Live Review: Bloc Party // Albert Hall, Manchester 03.12.15

Originally posted on The Indiependent.

Bloc Party walk onto the stage – a reasonably modest size for a band that has headlined festival stages – at Manchester’s Albert Hall and the crowd erupts with jubilation. This is the sight of a band about to play their first UK gig with the new line-up. Their love for this band is clearly unwavering even after splitting in two. Former drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes are not present but in their place is drummer Louise Bartle and Bassist Justin Harris. To say they are worthy replacements, alongside Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack, is almost understating their undeniable talent. Many in the crowd are obviously here for Bloc Party’s older material, relishing the fact that they have a renewed opportunity to see them live, and the set delivers on this. However, the prospect of new music is intriguing and these songs offer something fresh to the performance. In many ways this is the arrival of an exciting new band.

Both new members, though relatively unseasoned as performers compared to their counterparts, fit the mould perfectly. Throughout, Louise Bartle particularly, offered up some incredible drumming. The new album, set to be released in January, is called Hymns and many of the songs from it clearly cover themes of spirituality, religion and love. Whilst introducing one of their new songs, ‘Virtue’, frontman Kele acknowledged that it was apt they should be performing them in a building that still has the remnants of being a church, organ pipes and all.

After starting with mellow ‘Eden’, Kele picks up the worn Fender Telecaster that seems almost like a relic of the former band; on many of the new songs he uses a bigger range of instruments or just sings. With ‘Positive Tension’ the crowd begins to get moving, fans from years gone by instantly recognising the tune. They almost trick the audience with the arrival of ‘Banquet’, leading straight into it from another song during the middle of the set. As soon as the recognisable call and repeat riff is audible however, everyone catches on. The atmosphere during these older songs including ‘Helicopter’, ‘Flux’ and ‘Hunting for Witches’ is understandably electric.

On the whole the new songs are well received, and the album is setting up to be different but nonetheless very pleasing. ‘The Good News’ particularly, is a highlight. The difference however is definitely noticeable and occasionally a little jarring. ‘Different Drugs’ was a drastic change to the indie-rock energy of ‘Banquet’ and ‘One More Chance’ which came before it and whilst can be appreciated on its own, almost put people a little off balance in this context.

However, this is clearly not a band reformed to please old fans but rather very much invested in their art, and most would expect nothing less from Kele Okereke. ‘Ratchet’ is possibly the highlight of their set, a song representative of a transitional stage for the band and some of their last released music before this new era. It’s almost hip-hop verses underlined by a bouncy guitar riff, is lapped up by the crowd. The encore includes ‘The Love Within’ a song which since it has been out has polarised opinion; this doesn’t matter to the crowd enjoying every moment regardless, still awaiting two Bloc Party favourites, ‘Helicopter’ and ‘This Modern Love’ which are duly delivered.

Kele’s charm, manners and groovy dancing never cease to win over a crowd and the band’s class was shown once more as they returned to the stage for a second time after a unanimous roar from the audience, playing their first ever single, ‘She’s Hearing Voices’. This isn’t Bloc Party as we know them, but they are most certainly back and ready to take on the world.

Words by: Tim Goodfellow