All at once it’s summer, and Somerset House starts to make sense. Yes,it’s laughably clean – and yes, it intimidates The Cribs, who are fromYorkshire. But it’s good to be outside. More than that, it suits the epicmodernity of Bloc Party rather well: a very urban courtyard, with a fine skyabove.
Of the epic, more later. The courtyard doesn’t really help The Cribs,who, ploughing the same old garage furrow, belong more in small clubs or,for preference, their faraway bedrooms. In any case, they are very drunk andnot very tuneful. Their scratchy, overdriven set closes with frontman Ryandowning a beer. For a while, he plays his guitar with the bottle, but soonheadbutts it offstage while his brother Gary plays the bass behind his head.They’re shamelessly choreographed, and not nearly as rock ‘n’ roll as theythink.
Rock showmanship of a higher order arrives with The Kills. VV’s voice isan extraordinary thing: fierce; splendidly dark. Hotel, meanwhile, wields animpressively squalid guitar. The minimalistic sound somehow fills the greatspace, just as the two of them somehow fill the stage: Hotel motionless butfor the odd angular dance, VV writhing all over the place.
It’s surprising that this works outside, but it really does: the onlydanger is absurdity – they’re a shockingly cool band, but they do look likeall the Addams family rolled into two. And a woman twisting herself round aspeaker stack at the former home of the Inland Revenue does open herself tomockery. But even here, they pull things off, partly because there’s morehumour in them than people think. Unlike that of The Cribs, the end of their set iswonderful: a short mime, featuring an ecstatic VV and a thrusting guitar.Read into that what you will.
Having The Kills support was a good move. Strange to say, they siphonedoff latent energy, had done with Rock for the evening, and left the crowd inthat vaguely sleepy, soaring mood that Bloc Party is made of. This isn’t tosay that they were dull, or flaccid, or any of those things Noel Gallagherwould have them be (Kele Okereke, in original on-stage banter: “Whatever NoelGallagher says, there’s nothing wrong with going to university.”). Indeed,they were much punchier than their record, and throughout the set RussellLissack proved quite the guitar hero.
That said, under a sunset, on a balmy London evening, wide-screen musicis what you want, and this is what Bloc Party provide. Heavy touring hasdrilled them well, not bled them dry. Little Thoughts comes in and out offocus perfectly, shimmering guitars and Kele’s voice calling out over thecrowd. They run through most of the album, opening in spot-lit glory withLike Eating Glass, closing on Helicopter. In between is The Present, a newsong, and typically good.
This had all the marks of a homecoming: a friendly crowd and a friendlyband. “I used to walk past this building every day when I was a student,”says Kele lovingly. Place is important to pop. It matters that The Beatlesrecorded at Abbey Road, that The Clash tore up the Westway, that The Strokesare from New York. Tonight, in what might still be a novelty venue, but in away that has very little to do with novelty, Bloc Party are very London andstrangely Now. They also play beautifully: a great night.