For a band whose last record was a critical washout, Bloc Party took the stage on Saturday night at Philadelphia's Electric Factory with the swagger of the world's biggest rock stars.
After snagging and embracing the Next Big Thing label in 2005 with their debut, the still-incredible "Silent Alarm," the London natives have compelled their angular guitars and heart-on-sleeve lyrics to mature with mixed results. Last year's "Intimacy" was an electro-tinged sea change, and was shrugged off as an awkward genre experiment rather than a bold step forward. Not surprisingly, Bloc Party treated their new disc as a triumph at the show, gleefully ripping through most of the album while the packed crowd pumped their fists dutifully.
There were a handful of tunes that were as stagnant on stage as on record, like the ill-conceived rave stomp "Mercury", but for the most part "Intimacy" was more effective in the live setting. The knee-buckling riff of "Trojan Horse" packed an early wallop, while the tender "Biko" was a nice exhalation between all the high-decibel rockers.
Frontman Kele Okereke, sporting a white "Transformers" t-shirt, used his inherent playfulness to keep the crowd engaged during the 90-minute set, clumsily dancing around his subdued band mates and dedicating songs to screaming girls in the balcony. Bloc Party will undoubtedly be an attractive live act as long as Okereke keeps his goofy charm intact.
The band has also gained an onstage edge through technical experience: every song had slick instrumentation and seamlessly bled into the next. The sound quality, which is so crucial to Okereke's winding guitar solos and Matt Tong's booming drums, was thankfully faultless as well. While the band played a good amount of 2007's underrated "A Weekend in the City," the tracks off of "Silent Alarm" were maddeningly few and far between.
However, when Okereke stirred the crowd to "give the last little bit you've got" before blasting the opening riff to "Helicopter" to close the set, the show reached a climax that justified the admission price. Bloc Party may never again touch the raw brilliance of their debut, but the band has become so accomplished onstage that they could smooth most of their new material's jagged edges.