September 9, 2005
I didn’t go to Motherfucker last weekend, or rather I didn’t go inside. I showed up drunk outside around midnight, decided the line was too long, and went home. But I’ve had plenty of experience with no-rap hipster-kid dance parties, the ones that sometimes advertise themselves as Britpop dance parties but then drop that pretense when the DJs realize that they’re running out of Stone Roses records and that kids like to dance to the Deee-Lite or “Danger! High Voltage.” I’ve been to these things in like five different cities, DJed the embryonic Syracuse version that never drew more than thirty people and died quietly after a couple of months, met my girlfriend almost three years ago at the one in Baltimore. I have some theoretical issues with all the aggressive whiteness and complicated-hair competition and cocaine consumption, but I’ve mostly always had fun at these things. And I liked what Riff Raff, who did go to Motherfucker, wrote about it:
DJs are typically generous selectors, playing generally more rockcentric but secretly danceable stuff club skeptics respond to: I heard Annie, a Rapture double-dose, Bloc Party, Vitalic, the Who Made Who version of Benni Benassi’s “Satisfaction,” LCD Soundsystem, DFA1979, Go! Team, Out Hud, Blur’s “Boys and Girls,” Tom Vek, Soulwax’s nite version of “Krack,” Zongamin, a bunch others, the Kinks and Go4, and so on.
All of these acts are different, sure, but culturally something links them here, and they’re begging for an umbrella. That’s not even to say this music is necessarily important per se, but somehow these are the staples of a very specific demographic of indie kids dropping biases and, she wrote, learning how to dance. And beyond that, suddenly there’s a context for experiencing straight-up rock music (“Hard to Explain” came on at one point) in a communal setting that’s not a concert.
This stuff sounds so easy and natural in a dance-club setting that it’s almost surprising to hear it as, you know, concert music. When live bands play these club nights, everyone looks at their watches and waits for the DJs to start up again. But so these bands do exist in a non-dance-club capacity, even when they shouldn’t.
I like Bloc Party. I like how Silent Alarm melts into the background when I’m at work, no song standing out more than any other, nervy restless rhythm section rubbing up against woozily narcotic guitar atmospherics like a Muppet Babies version of Joy Division, Kele Okereke yelping out rock-boilerplate lyrics with total conviction. I don’t think they’re the second coming of anything, but I have no beef with this band. But holy shit did I ever have no fun at their show.
Okereke said something about how this was the band’s biggest headlining show yet, and it probably was; the pretty-huge venue was utterly jammed. But you wouldn’t have known it from watching the band, who stood mannequin-still and barely looked at the crowd during their 45-minute-plus-encores set. They sounded pretty much the exact same way they sound on record, except with the guitars not loud enough and no pillowy synths. The crowd interaction didn’t go much further than “How are you, Big Apple?” and “This is a power ballad!” and “I told you that was a power ballad!” and “Are you having a good time, Big Apple?” I’ve seen Bloc Party songs (or remixes, anyway), absolutely pack dancefloors, and it looked like people up front were probably dancing, but I was standing a third of the way back into the crowd, and everyone around me was just shuffling and singing along. This one fucking strobe light kept hitting me right in the eye and blinding me. The Big Rock Moments (the “so fucking useless!” part of “Positive Tension,” the “throw your arms around me” part of “This Modern Love”) sounded pretty great here, but everything else just congealed into an undistinguished mush, nothing that made standing up for an hour seem like a good idea.
Honestly, though, the show was never going to be any good. Bloc Party only has maybe an hour’s worth of music, and they’re young and unseasoned enough that they haven’t developed the confidence and swagger that a band needs if it’s going to be headlining in a venue that big. They aren’t ready. Their album is big, and they’re seriously banking on shows like this (tickets were $25 plus service charge), so obviously they aren’t going to stop playing headlining shows anytime soon. But they should. The live concert is not the right context for Bloc Party. They sound great when you’re drunk and slipping in spilled beer, when there’s no obligation to pay attention to anything happening onstage. But when you’re packed into a concert hall, when all attention is focused on four uncomfortable men on a stage reproducing their recorded music as closely as possible, they offer nothing. They need to stop.