Bloc Party may take the alienation of modern youth in the big city as their subject matter, but the band themselves couldn’t be further from the bored and lonely teens that Kele Okereke sings about. They are earnest young men who take their jobs seriously, and they delivered a professional, competent show on Wednesday night. If it was surprisingly compact (at just under 90 minutes) and unadventurous (the polished production of their second album A Weekend in the City was recreated with great fidelity), that didn’t seem to bother the sold-out crowd of 5,600, who cheered and jumped around with an enthusiasm not common in New York audiences.
Bloc Party is clearly building an audience in the US, because Okereke didn’t have to do much to earn this fervour. His call-and-response routines were formulaic, his jokes were nervous, and his party trick – running at great speed through the audience – felt slightly pointless. But the band is driven by guitarist Russell Lissack, who shyly unleashes virtuoso effects from stage right. His mood defines the songs and he alternates between cranking out jagged punk-funk riffs and tricky, soaring, note clusters in the style of U2’s The Edge.
Drummer Matt Tong, who finished the set topless and glistening with sweat, is the secret weapon. When his taut, muscular rhythms lock in with Lissack’s serrated guitar, Bloc Party come across like a bomb that’s about to detonate. When he keeps time while Lissack paints sonic pictures, they lose focus.
Bloc Party’s first album, Silent Alarm, contained more songs in the former mode, and they shone brighter at this concert, benefiting from the beefier sound the band has grown into. Some new, unnamed tunes sounded promising too, in particular one with a reverberating, ultra-compact bassline that suggested the next album will mark another stage in the band’s evolution. They are, after all, hardworking and diligent, and they probably have a career plan.