Bloc Party in Birmingham; it’s incredible, isn’t it? How there are once again firsts following the pandemic! Your first time at the pub, your first time meeting up with friends, first festival, first holiday. This is my first indoor gig since those challenging times, and what a way to return. Strangely, it’s actually my first time in Birmingham since we were all incarcerated by the Government (and before you start, yes, I believed all of it was necessary). It’s interesting to see how we have returned to normality quickly, yet the virus is still very much around (not one mask in sight). Anyway, I digress. I have missed the live scene. Yes, you can stream music and listen to your vinyl collection, but nothing quite beats the atmosphere of bands playing to their adoring fans. Both bands’ created an atmosphere with energetic performances that clearly captured that passion that the bands themselves must have missed.
The Murder Capital was the support, and they are one band I’ve wanted to see since their debut album “When I Have Fears” was released back in mid-2019. They didn’t disappoint with their darkly melodic and hauntingly wonderful music. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Two lads at the front responded with so much passion and clearly knew every track played. I think “Don’t Cling to Life” was the track that captured me and the majority of the crowd. I remember reading a review on Birmingham Live from Mark Veitch back in February 2020 saying that they were “the best act he had ever seen”, and it was easy to understand why. Their 30-minute set felt too short yet seamless and spectacular. Definitely a band that I will be checking out live again.
Bloc Party gave us an hour and a half set consisting of tracks from their latest offering Alpha Games, with some of their classics interwoven throughout. If you have followed my gig reviews before, you will know that this isn’t the first time that I have had the opportunity to write about this band; in fact, I think one of the last gigs that I went to before the pandemic hit was their Silent Alarm anniversary tour.
This was the first night of their Alpha Games UK tour; however, those first-night nerves were not apparent, and it was clear that the band were excited to kick off their return to the UK live music scene. It was a very well crafted and rehearsed set, that began with two new tracks, “Day Drinker” and “You Should Know the Truth”. I always think touring new records is always interesting, especially when the album has barely been with us for a month. There is a delicate balance of getting the blend of new tracks to fan favourites right. So following up these with “Hunting for Witches” was the right move; as it was apparent that as good as the new album is, it hasn’t quite fully embedded with the fans yet, and as frontman Kele Okereke said, there was a need to “get this party started!”
It was time for us to get real for a moment when Bloc Party followed up the very strobe intensive light show accompaniment to “Rough Justice” with (what I felt was) a surprising rendition of “bit of a golden oldie” “Real Talk” from 2012 album “Four”. It was possibly a sign that this wouldn’t be a show for the casual fan but for those with a genuine affinity for their sound.
Callum Is A Snake is one of my favourite tracks on the new record; with its envious and aggressive tone, you could sense from pockets of the crowd that, over time, it will be one of those great live tracks, with the crowd singing back “you snide little fuck” but it wasn’t quite there tonight. The green-lit stage worked so well here, and the lighting engineer should get a big shout out as everything he did tonight helped add extra stage presence.
The midsection of the set was a true spectacle. The reggae-tinged acapella intro to “Song for Clay (Disappear Here), seamlessly merged with “Banquet”, a huge crowd pleaser creating that dance floor mayhem that you want to see and our first glimpse of their brilliant debut album. Following this with what I think will be their next single, “In Situ”, kept that hustle on and worked really well – I particularly like how it musically pays homage to previous records. The only visit to 2016’s Hymns was with “Different Drugs”, with its beautiful description of the end of a relationship as if on two different sets of drugs. Followed up with the recent single “Sex Magik”, a coming of age track and album track “Of things Yet to Come”, which had a few fans singing back, “You were a good man, You were the best”.
There was clearly a desire for more of their classics throughout the set, and when these came, the crowd were far more responsive. Ending the main part of the set with “The Prayer” (which included a fantastic drum solo from Louise Bartle at the end, which was greeted with adoration from the Birmingham crowd)and the excellent indie dance track “Ratchet” was the way to quench the thirst of the pogo-hungry crowd before the encore.
Bloc Party didn’t make the crowd wait that long before returning to the stage with the evening’s only visit to their third album, “Intimacy”, with “Biko”. I wondered if this was the band’s hint towards the loneliness we all felt during the lockdowns, especially when the lyric “you’re not doing this alone” was ringing out around the venue. Round two of the evening consisted of five tracks that enabled the crowd to dance and get goosebumps but not necessarily simultaneously. The recent singles of “If We Get Caught” and “Traps” showed that the new album will grow over time, with the latter impacting the dance-desiring crowd. Following this up with “Helicopter” was phenomenal and a scene of absolute carnage by the masses (my notes just said – “fucking NUTS”). They had “one more rocket in our pocket” ending their set with a track that would send shivers down any spine “This Modern Love.”
Bloc Party’s set was interesting; it clearly captured the new album and some surprising moments. When you have so much music to choose from there are always going to be some tracks that sadly get missed. I believe that Kele’s final words aptly describe the evening as it was certainly one for the fans “that have been waiting for the three years of craziness to end so they can see us again.” For me it was simply the perfect way to return to indoor gigs.
Bloc Party Set List
- Day Drinker
- You Should Know the Truth
- Hunting for Witches
- Rough Justice
- Real Talk
- Callum is a Snake
- Song for Clay (Disappear Here)
- In Situ
- Different Drugs
- Sex Magik
- Of Things Yet To Come
- The Prayer
- If We Get Caught
- This Modern Love
Photographs: Ian Dunn
Reviewer: Imran Khan