Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: Bloc Party makes its Charlotte debut

When my first thought upon entering a room is “Siouxsie Sioux,” then chances are I’m going to like your band. That was the case when I walked in during IO Echo’s set Tuesday opening for London’s Bloc Party at The Fillmore. 
It wasn’t just singer Ioanna Gika’s shiny plastic kimono, the Asian-inspired screens that flanked the drummer, the low light and long hair that formed a sort of veil around her head, or the way she carried herself stretching in unusual poses on stage. It was the sonic marriage of atmospheric indie rock and Asian touches that echoed Siouxsie and the Banshees pairing of Eastern and Western. Although the setup was traditional - four-piece rock band - I think the other instruments including bass, keys, and (according to their press materials) Japanese koto and Chinese violin were piped in from a laptop. The echoing guitars, laptop, and Gika's voice - wearing a sweatshirt so `80s that I imagined it had an Esprit label - added depth and atmosphere. The foursome (Gika and Leopold Ross are the core members) ripped through songs that boasted Cure-like rhythms, Gika’s swooping vocals, sonic washes and fluttering guitars, but also juxtaposing choruses that were simple enough to easily put to memory. My husband said it reminded him of the Duke Spirit crossed with Elefant.
Bloc Party took the stage well after IO Echo left it to the trigger-like beat of the recent single “Octopus.” From “Trojan Horse” to “Hunting for Witches” (which always reminds me of the "Scrabble" TV game show) and “Kettling” my foot never stopped tapping and my head didn’t stop bobbing. But you could tell from singer Kele Okereke’s comments that he felt the Charlotte crowd was a bit reserved. Following another newer tune (“Real Talk”) the crowd finally erupted for older tracks “Song for Clay (Disappear Here),” “Banquet,” and “Blue Light.”
Okereke’s delight at winning over the crowd with “Banquet” was evident in his smile.
“You got me so excited I was tuning for the wrong song,” he laughed before “Blue Light.”

The sound wasn’t perfect, but it was interesting. It was refreshing to hear natural sounding vocals. Okereke’s voice wasn’t bathed in cover-up. It was raw and real. He’s a good singer, so he doesn’t need it, but his voice and the dry snare were in stark contrast to Russell Lissack’s effects-heavy guitar work. Some of the sounds the seemingly quiet and reserved guitarist makes come out of his instrument are truly impressive.
The crowd responded warmly to the new song “Children of the Future” and “Leaf Skeleton,” which Okereke said was left off 2012’s “Four” (it can be found as a bonus track). But it all seemed to whiz by with the group ending the regular set with less than an hour on stage with “So He Begins to Lie."
They hit on six more songs during the encore, but I greedily could’ve stood more including tracks from “Four” even if (as the guy behind us told his date before the show) it was rated one of the most disappointing albums of the year by Pitchfork readers. I disagree. That record will have you pedaling fast at the gym - pretty much like all Bloc Party records.
Tuesday marked Bloc Party’s first Charlotte concert since gaining notoriety outside the UK in 2005. Drummer Matt Tong recalled midway through the set that it was scheduled to play with Panic at the Disco here years ago, but had to pull out of that tour. Although I wish I'd seen them in Winston-Salem at the height of their stateside chart success following 2007’s “Weekend in the City,” the intimacy of The Fillmore at half capacity with only two levels open is preferable to a larger crowd. You can lose that feeling of being a part of the show and simply seeing a show when things get too separated. This show - full, yet still intimate enough - was just right.