Bloc Party. Monday, June 11, at the Uptown
Review by Richard Gintowt
I probably wouldn't have heard the new Bloc Party album Weekend in the City if it weren't for the KCK Public Library at 625 Minnesota Ave. I discovered this treasure trove of hip and obscure free music (and it's legal!) after learning that local musician Michael Stover -- aka DJ Clem -- is the buyer. Hence my recent introductions to Can, Glenn Kotche, Nels Cline, Chad Rex, Forrest Whitlow and Bloc Party.
Apparently, Bloc Party is a cool band to name drop. At least that's what I was told by the complimentary American Way magazine on my recent flight to Chicago. Of course, that Lester Bangs-approved publication also put Jeff Tweedy on the cover with the headline "Jeff Tweedy's Toughest Interview" and then proceeded to grill him about his favorite places to eat hot dogs.
Bloc Party at the Uptown. Photo: Scott Spychalski
Point being: I was skeptical. Hyperactive British rock bands like Maximo Park and The Futureheads seem to be in fashion these days, and although I like those two acts, my first two spins of Weekend In the City failed to impress.
So, with ol'-mister-music-snob riding shotgun, I set out to see Bloc Party at the Uptown Theater. I expected the live show to bowl me over and send shockwaves of repentance down my spine as lead singer Kele Okereke converted me to his Cure and Gang of Four-inspired gospel.
It didn't happen.
After nearly 90 minutes going the exact same speed, I boiled my thesis down to two problem areas:
1. All Bloc Party songs sound distressingly similar. There are no ballads, and the skittish drumming -- though initially impressive -- eventually becomes entirely predictable.
2. Okereke's voice is remarkable, but it's trapped inside song structures that are not. Slick production and anthemic choruses can't disguise chord progressions we've all heard a zillion times. Ditto for the loud-soft dynamics, which left me wondering if emo hasn't finally found its way across the ocean.
Kele Okerke takes the plunge. Photo: Scott Spychalski
Now before all ya'll Anglophiles call me a punter, hear this: Bloc Party ain't half-bad. I do have a soft spot in my heart for songs like "I Still Remember" and "Kreuzberg" (kudos to the outro: After sex / The bitter taste / Been fooled again / The search continues). These guys are obviously doing something right if they can pack the Uptown with equal parts hipsters and backwards white baseball caps. Heck, the third spin I'm affording Weekend in the City as I write this is turning out to be the best yet.
Unfortunately, a combination of mediocre sound (heavily favoring drums and vocals) and one-speed songwriting left me unimpressed. Here's hoping the Futureheads and Maximo Park find their way stateside soon -- and could someone please bring along my favorite UK band Field Music?