By Scott TavenerTwo-thirds through the first of a two-night stand at the Danforth Music Hall, Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke declared, "now for something... different," before his band launched into "One More Chance."
The London four-piece are back after a four-year hiatus that included solo forays and breakup rumours, so a song that aims at reconciliation -- albeit an ill-fated one -- proved particularly appropriate. Initially released as the final pre-hiatus single, the track's slightly odd mix of incessant, 1980s dance-pop keys and angular guitars brings together two disparate sides of a combo known for their sporadic identity crises. And it has aged surprisingly well.
Bloc Party made their bones with Silent Alarm's infectious, dance-inflected, spiky post-post-punk before trying on a range of other guises. The underrated A Weekend in the City and the oft-maligned Intimacy have a sonic and thematic gulf between them -- the former is personal and thoughtful, the latter brashly raucous -- and they're typically written off wholesale as "not Silent Alarm."
When Four arrived last month with shades of the debut, a handful of observers cited it as a return to form though it only yields flashes of vintage Bloc Party. However, juxtaposed with Weekend and Intimacy, it brought out the finer points of the two other records. It's the John A. MacDonald of albums.
Leadoff and most recent release, "Octopus," hit repeat on its hyperkinetic melody, introducing a prevalent theme (i.e., persistence). With its playful guitar run and Matt Tong's virtuoso drumming, "Trojan Horse" was an early standout. Furthermore, "Hunting for Witches," with its shout-along chorus and fuzzed-out guitar, awakened a so-far sedate crowd. And "Positive Tension" and its "so fucking useless crescendo" kicked off the mosh pit and crowd surfing.
Essentially, the gig was a taster plate, and it did a phenomenal job of blending disparate sounds, epoch, and experiments while still packing an emotional punch (blame the always reliable "This Modern Love," a thoughtful "Sunday" and pensive slow-burner "Day Four").
Songs culled from the new album largely benefitted from the live treatment. On disc, "Kettling" comes across as an ill-advised grunge dalliance. Turns out it's a grower of a song, and it let Okereke show off his finest vocal work, distorted guitar be damned. Still, even the most ardent apologist can't make much of a case for "Coliseum." With its grossly overweight guitars, the track was a hulking mess that played like sloppy Big Wreck.
Luckily, that type of gaffe was an anomaly in a rousing set that spanned the entire catalogue and offered both atypical highlights (a "We Found Love"-prefaced "Flux") and can't miss old favourites (closer "Helicopter").