Review: Bloc Party at Red Hill Auditorium
Bloc Party at Red Hill Auditorium
w/ Middle Kids
Friday, November 10, 2023
How do you maintain relevance when fans like your old stuff better than your new stuff?
Five years ago at the same venue, Bloc Party solved this quandary by playing debut album Silent Alarm front-to-back (and in reverse order, if you don’t mind). Just a smattering of recent material found its way to the encore.
But with a new record (that’s actually quite good) to support, they’ve reverted to standard programming. Just four tracks from Silent Alarm, which is rightly regarded as one of the noughties’ best albums, made for a hit and miss affair with fans.
The same could also be said for opening act Middle Kids, despite their catalogue being much smaller. In their case, first album Lost Friends and the early EPs were so strong that sophomore Today We’re the Greatest paled by comparison, while tracks from upcoming third record Faith Crisis Pt 1 (due Feb 16) were too new to make an impact.
Much like Bloc Party’s set to follow, the recent stuff, such as pastoral ballad Bootleg Firecracker, just didn’t engage the crowd. The fantastic closer Edge of Town finally brought the energy, but then they were done. Playing it earlier might have helped.
As with a memorable pre-Covid Astor headline of late 2019, Friday’s set found singer Hannah Joy gloriously pregnant, not that she missed a beat on her left-handed, upside down electric guitars; once again she was a force of nature to behold. Unfortunately, as good as this addition to the bill looked on paper, they never rose above their support act status. Which was a surprise because Middle Kids at their best are one of the country’s best live acts.
Bloc Party have been festival favourites for a long time. From headlining Splendour in the Grass to Future Music Festival, they’ve given us plenty of memorable shows in Australia, and the 2018 Silent Alarm retrospective at Red Hill was one for the ages.
But there’s no getting around the fact Friday night was a show with too many hot and cold moments. Hunting for Witches was a nice surprise three tracks in, but it was clearly the only tune in the first seven that many in the crowd were familiar with, such were the lulls in momentum either side of it.
The energy finally kicked in for reals on a wonderfully chaotic Song for Clay (Disappear Here), which was the perfect warm up for song-of-the-night Banquet, a huge peak in energy and clearly a singalong favourite. Then, with the crowd in their palms… they played Different Drugs and Blue. Not familiar with those? Not many were.
It didn’t help that at least half of awful new EP High Life was aired, which is a leftovers and outtakes collection if ever there was one. But mostly the errors here were in setlist design and Bloc Party not knowing what their best tracks are. Nothing wrong with two tracks from 2012’s underrated Four, but why not make one of them hit single Octopus? Of all the tracks played from last year’s Alpha Games, only Traps was one of the album’s four singles, and at least maintained some of the energy from the hits that preceded it.
By the time a trio of classics rounded out the main set (So Here We Are, The Prayer, Helicopter) it all felt over too quickly given so many favourites were still in the shed. A funny old encore included Flux and a beautiful take on This Modern Love, before maligned fidget-electro “banger” Ratchet closed the night (we knew it was a “banger” because frontman Kele Okereke declared as much beforehand).
Put simply, Bloc Party fans aren’t loyal enough for them to leave out Like Eating Glass, Positive Tension, Two More Years and She’s Hearing Voices while playing this many deep cuts. Perhaps that’s why they’re best suited to festivals and retrospective sets.
Photos by Damien Crocker