You Say Party, We Say Sigh….

November 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , )

Bloc Party, Brighton Centre, 24/10/09

Things aren’t looking too promising in the Bloc Party camp right now. The London based four piece have already confirmed that this ‘Bloctober’ tour will be their last before a lengthy hiatus, and recent quotes from drummer Matt Tong suggest that he may not be re-joining the band when they return. Tong’s absence would be a massive blow for a band who have faltered somewhat since the release of their excellent debut, ‘Silent Alarm’, four years ago.

Indeed, perhaps the biggest problem with follow up ‘A Weekend In The City’ was just how far Tong’s incendiary skin work had been pushed into the background in favour of Kele Okereke’s vocals. It would be a real shame if they were to break up completely, and possibly an even greater shame if they chose to carry on without one of the key elements that made them so interesting in the first place, as there are moments tonight when they sound like the best band in Britain. Sadly, there are also times when they sound utterly uninspiring and pedestrian, and it remains to be seen which of these elements will ultimately win out.

Clad in a white ‘Waste Man’ t-shirt and peaked cap, Kele bounces onstage to a rapturous reception as the band take their positions for opener ‘Waiting For The 7.18’. It’s a bit of a strange choice to open proceedings, but works about as well as any song about waiting for a bus can expect to, mainly due to the closing refrain of ‘Lets drive to Brighton on the weekend’. It’s followed by ‘Halo’ which ups the energy levels nicely, before the band launch into ‘Positive Tension’, which proves to be distinctly anti-climatic. Much of this is down to the way in which Kele chooses to alter his delivery, deliberately dropping words from the end of lines, and letting others run over into the next. It is a trick he will repeat throughout the night, and only serves to severely disrupt the flow of what should have been a highlight, making it sound rushed and under-performed.

Much derided recent single ‘Mercury’ gets an early airing, and perversely is one of the first songs that really shows what the band can do in a live setting. The rolling dubstep style bass line, distorted brass and skittering drum beats manage to dominate the track and ramp up the tension in a way they never quite manage on record, while Kele’s wild feral yelping works better as an addition to the collage of sound, rather than its centre point.

This issue becomes fairly crucial throughout the show, as tracks like ’The Prayer’, ‘I Still Remember’ and ‘Two More Years’ drift by in a sea of repetitive vocals and tame instrumentation. It is only when Russell Lissack’s searing guitar is allowed a chance to break through that songs like ‘Trojan Horse’ offer up anything of interest, and sadly this happens all too rarely. When they do get it right however, the results are ferociously brilliant, as an incendiary triple whammy of ‘Hunting For Witches’, ‘Song For Clay’ and ‘Banquet’ aptly demonstrates. ‘Hunting For Witches’ in particular marries thunderous drum beats and bass lines with the menace of Lissack’s descending guitar riff and a host of unsettling sound effects.

The band finish strongly with an encore that includes both ‘Flux’ and ‘Helicopter’, which sends everyone home happy.  However, the fact that three albums worth of material has only managed to produce a handful of moments that really excelled in a live environment suggests that the band may have stagnated slightly. Hopefully Bloc Party’s planned hiatus will provided an opportunity for members to recharge their creative batteries and come back stronger with some fresh ideas and finally fulfil their early potential. 

First published in XYZ Magazine

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Speech Therapist

November 20, 2009 at 7:56 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , )

Speech Debelle, Brighton Coalition, 8/10/09

Typical. You finally get signed, get your album released, find yourself nominated for the Mercurys, win the damn thing against all expectations and then have the dubious pleasure of hanging out with Mr Gordon Brown and hearing your music pumped out of branches of Topshop across the country. Your management then sends you off on a mammoth tour of the UK and Europe to capitalise on your newfound fame, and less than two weeks in, your voice goes.

It doesn’t bode especially well for the evening ahead, particularly when Speech Debelle steps onto the Brighton Coalition’s small stage and immediately becomes embroiled in an unintentional slapstick routine involving her mic stand and cable.  She announces her predicament in suitably croaky tones, but assures us that it will give the show ‘character’, before shyly introducing herself, and thanking us for turning up. It’s a slow and somewhat nervy start that sees a few worried looks exchanged between audience members, many of whom are only here off the back of that Mercury win.

Even launching into opener ‘The Key’, things seem a little muted. Without the addition of a horn section, her paired down backing band (one acoustic guitar, one double bass, one small drum kit) are more a subtle accompaniment to Debelle’s wordplay, than a means to drive the songs along. The overall effect isn’t helped by the fact that it is pretty difficult to make out any of the lyrics that Debelle is laying down, particularly as this is her main strength. Almost as one, the crowd lean forward, as if attempting to lip-read some recognisable line, and it is through this close attention to the detail of her songs that the performance, and Debelle’s work as a whole,  starts to make more sense.

Speech Debelle as photographed by Lucie Goodayle

It takes time, but like some of the most rewarding music, Debelle’s quiet, confessional tones start to reveal a delicacy and minimal beauty rarely found in UK hip hop. The likes of ‘Searching’ and ‘Go Then, Bye’ unfurl themselves gently, and as Debelle’s vocals become more confident, they begin to sound clearer, and sit more comfortably in the midst of  the simple guitar and bass lines emanating from the stage behind her. Best of all is an exquisite rendition of ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’, which utilises the instruments onstage superbly, with the throbbing bass suggesting a barely concealed anger beneath the vulnerability of the delicate guitar work.

She finishes with a beautifully intimate ‘Speech Therapy’, bowed bass and swooning backing vocals perfectly framing her delicate voice, and with that she’s gone leaving the crowd hungry for more. It’s a fantastic turnaround, and proves that there is still space for performers who eschew brash showmanship and immediate thrills for a subtler, more human approach. Whether this will work in a larger setting remains to be seen, but on the strength of tonight’s performance Speech Debelle should still be a hot enough prospect come next year’s festivals to find out.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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