Gig Review by Farhana Alam with Photography by Helen Williams

Bloc Party

The final night of the NME Awards Tour 2016 brings the unlikely combination of Bloc Party, Drenge, Rat Boy and Bugzy Malone to Birmingham’s O2 Academy. Up first is Bugzy Malone, playing to an audience that is still in its lag phase of growth and which gives a dismal response to the ubiquitous command of “Make some noise.” Unfortunately for Bugzy Malone, Birmingham’s NME fans are not his target audience.

Rat Boy

Rat Boy

Rat BoyRat Boy

Rat Boy

Rat Boy and his floppy-haired band entertain the crowd with songs that range from hip-hop to indie-pop, with an air of dishevelled nonchalance. Jordan Cardy’s adolescent charm is reminiscent of Johnny Borrell in the early years of Razorlight. He throws his cap into the crowd of (almost exclusively) teenage fans, who scramble around to claim it. They go wild for Wasteman, and so begins a steady stream of crowd-surfing and attempts to invade the stage. Cardy takes this in his stride, almost encouraging them. He wields the power of the sound waves, raising his hands to wordlessly part the sea of fans, who come crashing together again, wilder than ever.

Drenge

Drenge

DrengeDrenge

Drenge

Next up are Drenge. They are a very self-contained band, letting their music speak volumes, rather than needing to rouse the crowd. As a newcomer to their music, I find them incredibly impressive (which does not happen often!); clearly they are accomplished musicians. Their music has a clear grunge influence, reminding me sometimes of Nirvana and at other times of a British version of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Energetic drummer Rory Loveless is the focal point, whilst his brother Eoin’s echoing deep vocals captivate the audience. Even the teenagers in the crowd stop crowd-surfing quite so much; perhaps this is a sign of respect for real musical talent…

Bloc Party

Bloc Party

Bloc Party

As the floor of the Academy fills up for Bloc Party, the average age of the audience rises by a decade. They start the set with recent single The Good News, followed by Mercury, for which new member Justin Harris brings out the saxophone. Throughout their two-part set, the biggest reactions from the audience are for songs from the first and second albums: Song For Clay (Disappear Here), Hunting For Witches, Helicopter, and The Price Of Gasoline. These are also the songs that best showcase guitarist Russell Lissack’s talents. Songs from the new album, Hymns, are received with a sense of unfamiliarity, as if this is a different band, which of course they are; new drummer Louise Bartle has big shoes to fill. The band as a whole appears rather subdued, which is partly explained when Kele Okereke dedicates a song to his hangover.

Bloc Party

Bloc PartyBloc Party

An NME Awards Tour audience is not the same as a Bloc Party audience. This clearly has an impact on the way in which Kele interacts with the crowd and he appears rather detached, dancing along to One More Chance without even attempting to entice the crowd. In response to the constant torrent of teenage crowd-surfers and drink-throwers being reprimanded by the bouncers, he wonders out loud, “What’s going on, Birmingham? You’re dropping like flies. I thought you were tougher than that.” After bowing out, the band returns for an encore of Flux, which ends the set and leaves a feeling of disjointedness attached to this odd muddle of an evening.

Bloc Party

Bloc PartyBloc Party

See the complete photoset here.

Leave a Reply