So here we are. Thirteen years since the release of Bloc Party’s debut album 2005’s Silent Alarm, which was played in its entirety to an intimate crowd in Auckland.
Screeds have already been written about the halcyon days of the indie music revival between 2004 and 2006. For those who grew up with it, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air as a new generation rediscovered the lyricism of sad boy indie bands (The Smiths, The Kinks, Lou Reed) and merged it with the raw power of post-punk (The Stooges, Gang of Four) to create something familiar yet fresh. Bands were rediscovering the music of the past to bring it into the present – or if it was really good, the future.
Bloc Party knew how to combine poppy hooks with a dishevelled punk spirit and whip-smart lyrics to create an album that was anything but silent. It hummed with a kinetic urgency that demanded to be heard.
Silent Alarm was one such album. Bloc Party knew how to combine poppy hooks with a dishevelled punk spirit and whip-smart lyrics to create an album that was anything but silent. It hummed with a kinetic urgency that demanded to be heard. It was an exclamation of intent by a band whose debut was to become one of the bastions of the 2000s indie rock sound; a modern classic of British guitar music.
Like Pulp, the aforementioned Smiths and Suede before them, Bloc Party had an uncanny ability to make the mundane beautiful. They managed to pen lyrics that captured the contradictions and anxiety faced by then-modern society and the complexity of more universal themes: intimacy, frustration and politics. Silent Alarm immediately struck a chord with critics and fans alike, becoming a staple in many a (now) late 20s/early 30s indie fans collection and netted the band a coveted Mercury Award nomination.
However, a lot has changed since 2005, including the status of guitar music in the indie sphere. But the combination of Bloc Party and openers The Beths was a perfectly pitched evening that offered both a masterclass in hype that can only be found in an evening caught between nostalgia and newness.
Anyone who is interested enough to read my reviews regularly would know that I am a fan of local indie-pop band The Beths. Their infectious, sunny hooks and four-part harmonies are an absolute joy to listen to and it’s been fantastic to watch their meteoric rise to fame - from free shows to gracing the pages of Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and an extensive European and US tour. Furthermore, their debut record Future Me Hates Me is easily one of the finest local releases in 2018. So if you haven’t already noticed, I always enjoy seeing them and was excited to see The Beths take to a stadium stage. While the songs remained danceable and the band as tight as ever, The Beths fell prey to bad sound mixing. Their instruments were harshly turned up to the point of distortion in the cavernous space and completely drowned out Liz Stokes vocals. Nevertheless, they are torchbearers for bringing indie-rock kicking and screaming into 2018, so were a fine choice as an opening act.
By the time The Beths finished up, Spark was crackling with the energy of 5000 punters. There was a heady sense anticipation and nervousness that only comes when a collective audience truly loves an album. It cut through the smell of overpriced warm beer and hovered in the air, dissipating only when Bloc Party took to the stage to thunderous applause. Picking up their instruments, the dissonant bars of the final song off Silent Alarm, Compliments, rang out across Spark. While there was some initial confusion amidst the crowd, it proved to be an astute move by the band. Playing the album backwards meant the majority of the bands singles were towards the end of the set. This meant the energy and emotions of the crowd reached a fever pitch as the night went on rather than lull or ebb and flow.
“Let me take you back to 2005” exclaimed Kele Okereke by means of introduction as they dived into Plans –and did they ever! The duration of their set was nothing less than pitch perfect. A lot of the brilliance of Silent Alarm lay in the ability of former bassist Gordon Moakes and former drummer Matt Tong to tightly weave themselves around Okereke’s eagerly plaintive singing. So newcomers Justin Harris (bass) and Louise Bartle (drums) had big shoes to fill for purists. However, they needn’t have worried. Harris’s bass lines acted as a steady counterpoint, while Bartle matched and perhaps surpassed Tong with her relentless energy and intricacy. Time has also not dulled the electric energy between Okereke and Russell Lissack’s skittish lead guitar work.
Playing the album pretty much note for note was another smart move on Bloc Party’s part as it allowed for en-masse sing alongs that established a sense of camaraderie and shared experience between strangers that is rarely felt in modern gig going culture. There was barely a cell phone to be seen as fans belted out indie-disco anthem Banquet. Modern Love was an explosion of confetti and 13 years of repressed teenage angst, while Okereke let us do the work for the opening verse of Helicopter undoubtedly fulfilling many an indie-kids dream. When performed live, all of the songs on Silent Alarm remained as fresh and necessary as they did in 2005 and it seemed unfathomable that Bloc Party – who played with ferocity and virtuosity- had only had “four hours sleep between them.”
The encore saw them return for some deeper cuts – Little Thoughts was introduced as “something for the real fans” while Flux induced the perfect raucous to end the evening. It was a night of unabashed nostalgia that demanded a symbiotic relationship between artist and audience. The result was less of a gig and more of a collective moment.
“Where are you at?” screamed Okereke.
We were right there with you. And it was glorious.