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Bloc Party live in London: 20 years of indie’s chameleonic stars

While in theory a simple exercise in nostalgia, the perennially surprising quartet‘s biggest show to date offers a lot more to chew on.

4.0 rating

By Will Richards

Bloc Party
Bloc Party performing at Crystal Palace Park (Picture: Phoebe Fox)

Bloc Party’s 20th anniversary gig at London’s Crystal Palace Park is the biggest show of the band’s career, but it’s been far from a straight line to this point. In 2005, the London quartet’s fantastic and powerful debut album Silent Alarm immediately put them alongside The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand as big guns of the ‘00s indie revival, before line-up changes, awkward experiments with genre and countless side-projects threatened to derail them.

“The journey has been twisted,” frontman Kele Okereke – who is mostly sincere, occasionally cutting – admits to the crowd towards the end of the show. “There’s been lots of changes,” he adds, to a drum fill of comedically perfect timing from Louise Bartle, who in 2015 had the unenviable task of replacing one of indie rock’s great drummers in Matt Tong.

With support from fellow ‘00s heroes Friendly Fires and The Hives (alongside next generation hopefuls The Mysterines and Connie Constance), this celebratory show is primed to hit all the right nostalgia spots for indie kids in their thirties who have only just admitted defeat and ditched the skinny jeans.

It’s not a script Bloc Party entirely stick to, though. When the show was announced late last year, the band promised they were “going to play Silent Alarm plus a host of other favourites”. While the majority of the lauded debut album is indeed performed, fan favourites ‘The Pioneers’, ‘Luno’ and more are omitted, with a fair few grumbles overheard about the lack of a full album run through that was heavily implied in the show’s marketing.

Bloc Party
Bloc Party performing at Crystal Palace Park (Picture: Phoebe Fox)

Instead, they pepper songs from Silent Alarm amongst choice cuts from their sonically chaotic career since. 2009 curveball ‘Mercury’ – the start of the band’s foray into bullish dance music – and that same album’s piano house banger ‘One More Chance’ hit the spot, though the limp ‘Different Drugs’ (from 2016’s Hymns) and wobbly new single ‘Flirting Again’ highlight the mixed bag that the band’s last 15 years of studio work has become.

The 10 cuts that are aired from the debut album sound as fizzing and vibrant as ever, and are played with energy and fury by a band tighter than ever. Okereke and guitarist Russell Lissack’s two-Telecaster interplay remains the best guitar sound to come out of the scene, while Bartle and new bassist Harry Deacon slot in impeccably. ‘Positive Tension’ is full of brilliantly restless energy, while ‘Blue Light’ and ‘This Modern Love’ (the latter recently boosted by a Saltburn sync) are beautifully affecting, with Okereke doing tenderness as excellently as he does fury.

Despite the foregrounding of Silent Alarm in the show’s promotion, it’s songs from underrated follow-up A Weekend in the City that prove the show’s high points. The 2007 follow-up expanded the boundaries of the band’s sound, and the show’s most boisterous (‘Song For Clay (Disappear Here)’, ‘The Prayer’) and unashamedly anthemic (‘I Still Remember’, ‘Flux’) moments all come from that album. Come 2027, it deserves its own 20th anniversary tour.

Bloc Party
Bloc Party performing at Crystal Palace Park (Picture: Phoebe Fox)

Through Saltburn, a recent tour supporting Paramore and the democratisation of music discovery online, Bloc Party have emerged as a new favourite of younger music fans, making this show an interesting crossroads moment for the band. In the encore, about half the crowd screech at performances of Silent Alarm-era offcuts ‘Two More Years’ and ‘Skeletons’, with the others waiting patiently for rowdy set closer ‘Ratchet’ from 2013. Far from simple nostalgia, it’s a show that celebrates 20 “twisted” years, in Kele’s words, and begins a future that’s sure to be far from ordinary too.