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 from Yorkshire. But it’s good to be outside. More than that, it suits the epic modernity of Bloc Party rather well: a very urban courtyard, with a fine sky above.
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 and not very tuneful. Their scratchy, overdriven set closes with frontman Ryan downing a beer. For a while, he plays his guitar with the bottle, but soon headbutts it offstage while his brother Gary plays the bass behind his head. They’re shamelessly choreographed, and not nearly as rock ‘n’ roll as they think.
Rock showmanship of a higher order arrives with The Kills. VV’s voice is an extraordinary thing: fierce; splendidly dark. Hotel, meanwhile, wields an impressively squalid guitar. The minimalistic sound somehow fills the great space, just as the two of them somehow fill the stage: Hotel motionless but for the odd angular dance, VV writhing all over the place.
It’s surprising that this works outside, but it really does: the only danger is absurdity – they’re a shockingly cool band, but they do look like all the Addams family rolled into two. And a woman twisting herself round a speaker stack at the former home of the Inland Revenue does open herself to mockery. But even here, they pull things off, partly because there’s more humour in them than people think. Unlike that of The Cribs, the end of their set is wonderful: 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 siphoned off latent energy, had done with Rock for the evening, and left the crowd in that vaguely sleepy, soaring mood that Bloc Party is made of. This isn’t to say that they were dull, or flaccid, or any of those things Noel Gallagher would have them be (Kele Okereke, in original on-stage banter: “Whatever Noel Gallagher says, there’s nothing wrong with going to university.”). Indeed,they were much punchier than their record, and throughout the set Russell Lissack proved quite the guitar hero.
That said, under a sunset, on a balmy London evening, wide-screen music is what you want, and this is what Bloc Party provide. Heavy touring has drilled them well, not bled them dry. Little Thoughts comes in and out of focus perfectly, shimmering guitars and Kele’s voice calling out over the crowd. They run through most of the album, opening in spot-lit glory with Like Eating Glass, closing on Helicopter. In between is The Present, a new song, and typically good.
This had all the marks of a homecoming: a friendly crowd and a friendly band. “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 Beatles recorded at Abbey Road, that The Clash tore up the Westway, that The Strokes are 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 and strangely Now. They also play beautifully: a great night.