Bloc Party: Carling Academy Bristol; Wed Feb 7

Bloc Party: Carling Academy Bristol; Wed Feb 7

Indie’s crown princes go west with leaked new album and, believe it or not, really get the party started

Witnessing the fragility and unfathomable pain in Kele’s face as he clasps his head in his hands during ‘Uniform’, it’s hard to believe this is the same person who was larking about with us on the tourbus mere minutes earlier. It’s as if he’s wringing the anguish out with his bare hands, and by the strobe-ridden chorus the dreadlocked silhouette is squeezing every last breath from his unfortunate guitar, riding a titanic rhythmic cavalcade to a better place. It’s a world away from the banter, bickering and jokes about The Others from earlier, and it leaves us wondering: what exactly are Bloc Party, tortured souls or jokers?

Tonight they rolled into the West Country, and a thousand eager Bristolians have crammed every staircase and balustrade of this unfortunately-shaped venue. On a stage decked with austere fluoro lights that fill the hall with the neon luminescence of a lonely weekend in the city, there they are – hiding behind floppy fringes and managing only a meek “hello” to the baying mob. As they stand there, shrouded in timid insouciance, we’re reminded that Bloc Party have never been natural showmen, not even in the withdrawn and introspective Radiohead sense. Tonight’s theatrics amount to the briefest of monitor straddling, drummer Matt Tong getting topless at the back, and some half-hearted pedal jiggery-pokery during ‘She’s Hearing Voices’. Not even sarcastic catcalls of “you’re charismatic” from the stoned section of the crowd hustle them into action.

But Bloc Party are beyond that. From opener ‘Song For Clay (Disappear Here)’ to the magnificent ‘Like Eating Glass’, it’s obvious they don’t need leer, sneer or forced good cheer. Not for them the swagger of The Twang or the mateyness of The Enemy (a doubled-edged trick as Dominic Masters will tell you over a Special Brew), and it’s no thanks to histrionic silliness or intricate stage shows; they’d rather let the music do the talking. It works.

‘Waiting For The 7.18’ is another track that’s been in the (legal) public domain for all of two minutes and yet warrants the same reverence as the classic ‘Banquet’. The delta where a three-way river of layered guitars converge, it’s made even more glorious by a now non-smoking Tong (collapsed lung pending; more breath to beat the shit out of his kit). By the end,

half of Somerset is dreaming of hot-footing it to Brighton for the weekend. Recent single ‘The Prayer’, meanwhile, gets the hugest cheers of the night, although Gordon’s superfluous “oohs” might be less embarrassing synthesized. ‘This Modern Love’ seems to be a personal favourite; it’s smiles all round and Kele even initiates handclaps midway through, relapsing briefly again from martyr to entertainer, the only sign tonight of their overlooked mirth.

By the time ‘So Here We Are’ arrives, a bundle of euphoric tenderness, swooning boys and girls forfeit their viewpoint in exchange for oxygen and the space in the wings to lose control. “Who’s got a bit of fight left in them?” challenges Kele, all assertive now as they make the inevitable return to the stage. ‘Kreuzberg’ is beautiful but underwhelming, but ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ is the powerhouse of rattled drums and frantic guitars that’s been creating states of emergency on dancefloors for years, and ‘Pioneers’ comes and goes in a final flurry of harmonised defiance.

Backstage afterwards the Bloc boys seem strangely subdued over meatballs and Veuve Cliquot. There’s an eerie calm of detached professionalism as Kele talks about the virtues of the album getting leaked and Matt reads NME’s verdict on ‘Weekend In The City’ (he seems to approve). The band are still in that forlorn special place, living up to their meek reputation, and there’s none of the debaucherous elation normally associated with post-gig gatherings. Little do we know that’s still to come…

Tim Chester