Seven years after the release of their excellent debut album Silent Alarm, the crafty, angular British rock of Bloc Party continues to waffle between potent, post-punk influenced modern rock and muddy, atonal throwaway tracks. Playing the Fox Theater on Thursday night to celebrate the release of their fourth LP, Four, the group fought to both stay relevant and to move forward, pulling heavily from Silent Alarm and Four.
Lead singer Kele Okereke was in high spirits, bantering with the crowd about marijuana smoke, sing-alongs, and the band’s long term absense from Oakland (a half-truth: Bloc Party played Outside Lands this summer). Led by the robo-kick-drum of Matt Tong, the group opened with Four’s groovy lead track, “So He Begins To Lie,” thrashing through the song’s noisy second half to a raucous response from the audience.
The band hit their stride running through older hits. The propulsive “Positive Tension,” which jitters forward above Tong’s taut snare-and-drum attack, is the perfect example of the anxious dance rock Bloc Party elevate beyond trite radio tropes. The lead foot rock of “Kettling” is Bloc Party’s most satisfying new song, a revolutionary anthem with a Matt Bellamy-inspired chorus: “We can feel it in our bones / we can feel it in our bones / the future is ours.”
But Bloc Party’s other side — the slow, introspective ballads and love songs — were also on display. As resting points, the foursome interspersed both the gentle falsetto of “Day Four” and the Rapture-mimicking keyboard riffs of Intimacy B-side “One More Chance” into the set list.
Thursday night featured all the trappings of a rock show — spit-firing seizure strobes, audience handclaps, sing-alongs, even a moment when Kele appeared so fired up he decided to tackle his own sound engineer (who didn’t look especially pleased). But for all the stage work, the band at times seemed to be reaching for something they couldn’t quite find — many of the new songs (“We Are Not Good People” specifically) had the band trudging through distorted mud with Kele hysterically yelling like he’s about to drown.
Add to this the band’s overly upbeat attitude, a short Rihanna cover as an intro to “Flux,” and bassist Gordon Moakes’ juvenile stay awesome! t-shirt and it’s not hard see the struggle to stay relevant written on Bloc Party’s sleeve. They must know as well as anyone that a fancy lightshow, the strength of their back catalogue, and a “stay awesome” mantra won’t cut it for much longer. But, for now, it’s hard not to enjoy the band as a satisfying flashback.
The all-girl foursome Dum Dum Girls opened the show, proving once and for all that they are Best Coast’s under-recognized but much superior older sisters, who write melting 60’s pop melodies coated with the warm, deep voice of lead singer Dee Dee Penny. Celebrating their return to the Bay Area (Penny grew up here), the Dum Dum Girls — despite some mixing problems with the guitars not cutting through the bass — still managed to start the night off with a seductive set, ending with a basic but satisfying cover of The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.”