When I got the confirmation and started writing the band’s bio in the teaser for this Bloc Party gig, I was legitimately excited. They’re a band who defined a large part of the indie years in the UK and, personally, were a bit of a soundtrack to my mid- and late teens – and, as a Londoner seeing them in Berlin, added bonus nostalgia points.
The Zitadelle Spandau is beautiful but quite a trek for most Berliners. On the way to the show, we saw a lot of groups eager to make the trip, and not just across the city: the number of British accents hinted that people had flown over to Germany for the occasion. It was quite a feeling on the longest day of the year to be sitting on the U-Bahn on the way to a Bloc Party gig listening to chatty (and pre-drinking) Brits: for a moment you might have thought you were riding the London underground.
Upon arrival we could already see the crowds gathering outside the entrance, trying to squeeze in some last minute food and drink, because – as I quickly found out – there was no re-entry. As mentioned, the Zitadelle is a great outdoor venue, particularly on a hot summer solstice, with its surrounding gardens, moat, high walls and medieval battlement look to it. Although the actual stage area isn’t exactly huge, it provided more than enough space for the odd thousand-or-so fans.
Bloc Party were surprisingly punctual, coming out and wasting no time with their opening song Compliments, the album artwork of Silent Alarm draped behind them. I mention this because the sound quality, levels, and lighting were all very impressive – particularly with such a short time between them and the previous band on stage. I will say now there were no issues with any of the songs as far as I could tell, technical or otherwise: it was a very clean set, and the band were practically studio tight. Although I do like Compliments, it was a bit of an odd choice for an opener, seeing as it’s melodic and downright sad. Of course, emotional and sad are one of the band’s default ‘tones’ but they have more than enough high tempo songs to get a crowd going. But hey ho.
As if the massive Silent Alarm cover behind them wasn’t obvious enough I soon realised this was a continuation of the Silent Alarm tour the band has been on over the last months, a tour I’d heard about in passing a while ago but had failed to make the connection when I pitched up to do this review. It’s a unique tour, with a setlist focused solely on songs from their first album. As the evening progressed, we went through songs such as So Here We Are, This Modern Love, Blue Light. The sun eventually went down and (to my surprise) moshpits started breaking out to the harder rocking tracks, such as Banquet and Helicopter.
For the encore, the Silent Alarm drapery dramatically dropped to the floor and the crowd were treated to later songs like Hunting for Witches and Flux. Bloc Party got a great response from the crowd, and it’s worth mentioning that the lighting crew were doing a pretty amazing job. By this point, the sun was very much gone, enhancing the well-choreographed effects. It had shaped up to be a nice evening in a pretty venue with good music and a receptive crowd.
It was a very clean set, and the band were practically studio tight.
Now, as said, there were no technical issues I should particularly mention, and it was a very lively crowd with a bit of moshing, a lot of dancing, scream-singing – everyone had a good time. My only complaint is an odd one but one of consequence, particularly when it comes to live performances.
It felt too rehearsed. And by that, I mean the punctuality of it and the cleanness to the music were, unfortunately, positive by-products of a band that seemed like they were at the end of a long tour. It was like they were simply trying to finish a job they’ve done more times than they can count. While I’m a big fan of Bloc Party as a band, and Okereke as a frontman, there didn’t seem to be a lack of crowd interaction, and any words said to the audience often felt like a polite after-thought, graciously asking us how we were doing and thanking us for the energy, as though he’d “forgotten his manners” (as he actually put it at one point).
This, coupled with the fact that no song was extended or any effort made to bleed into the next, left us at times in an almost sterile atmosphere, each song as cut and dry as though you might be simply listening to the album itself, run-time and all.
But again, this is an odd complaint – and as a fan of the music, it wasn’t nearly enough to ruin the experience. I – and everyone else – got exactly what was promised, but live music in my humble opinion should be purposefully unique – a once in a lifetime, personal experience with the band – and I felt a certain disconnect on this particular occasion. Thankfully the quality of the music and the loyalty of the fans were more than enough for a thoroughly fun night.
Photography: Luisa Orduño Cázares