Bloc Party have always been a divisive musical concern; mainly because in just eight years, with a significant two-year annulment between albums three and, literally, Four, they’ve tried their hardest to confound expectations.

In doing so however, they have occasionally lost sight of just why they’ve earned a sizeable following to begin with, and their live show – at least musically speaking – tends to prove the cliché that the older the material, the better.

The Melbourne crowd – starved of a visit from the British quartet since 2009 – reserve the biggest roars for the Silent Alarm material, but also – of course – when the headliners slink on stage.

Following a kinetic, enjoyable set from Worlds End Press, playing to a fairly sparse yet appreciative throng, the built tension releases when Bloc Party plunge into ‘So He Begins To Lie’.

Drummer Matt Tong, already shirtless, kicks off with his muscular groove, proving he’s as impressively technical as ever, while frontman Kele Okereke is literally muscular – quite the contrast to his skinny counterparts.

For the bulk of the show, guitarist Russell Lissack and bassist Gordon Moakes are as inanimate as their guitar lines are restless (re: very), but there’s plenty to enjoy in the visual feast of a splendid light show.

Four central rings, mimicking the sleeve of their latest album, flash primary colours, augmented by all manner of dazzling visual effects designed to match the band’s firework dynamics.

An artificial roof of primary colours ebbs across heads during the punctuated syncopations of ‘Real Talk’, spiky bombs of green light erupt during the spiralling guitar solo of ‘Octopus’, while the intense strobing and laser configurations during ‘Flux’ turn Festival Hall into a rock-savvy rave.

Old favourite, ‘Positive Tension’ proves an early, euphoric highlight (complete with the explosive middle eight cry of ‘so fuckin’ useless!’), then comes the propulsive, choppy ‘Team A’. “This is one of my favourites,” remarks Okereke, “and it’s a true story.”

It’s catcall of “I’m going to ruin your life” finds the grinning frontman pulling call and response antics with the audience, demonstrating his development in showmanship but his ‘crowd work’ eventually becomes grating and clichéd over the course of the evening.

Okereke’s stage charm has always smacked of smugness, and though he’s chatty and amicable, his constant goading of “come on Melbourne” and feigning deafness – “I can’t hear yooouuu” – soon become more showy pantomime than genuine connection with his followers.

Still instrumentally, Okereke and co. deliver a festival-hardened set, the best point of which is a breathless mid-section that dashes hard from the gorgeous ‘Blue Light’ (still their definitive ballad), through A Weekend In the City’s ‘Waiting For The 7.18’ and ‘Song For Clay’, before the latter’s serrated edges tumbles beautifully into a vigorous turn of ‘Banquet’.

Each showcases the abilities of Bloc Party’s not-so-secret weapon: drummer Matt Tong. Splashing hyperactive, drum n bass breakbeats on ‘7.18’, driving like a piston through the 5/4 timing of ‘Clay’ and straight attack of ‘Banquet’ with equal fever, he’s the visual and aural centrepiece to their live show.

The ethic of the band’s latest LP, Four – sold as ‘the sound of four men playing in a room together’ – has snuck into their live show. The guitars are no less effects-laden, but are starker, leaner, and more direct.

A philosophy best evidenced in the rough and tumble of ‘Coliseum’; flipping from a blues-tinged swagger into all-out blunt riffage in just two-and-a-bit minutes. If it’s not their briefest song, it’s certainly their heaviest.

Disappointingly, it’s juxtaposed with ‘One More Chance’ and its dinky piano sample that’s a refugee of 90s dance chart music.

It’s an interesting curio to trot out, but feels shoehorned into the set so Okereke can squeeze another bout of call and response grandstanding from its coda.

There’s plenty better material in their catalogue to draw from, and the same can be said of the lyrical foot tour of Berlin that is the slower, reflective ‘Kreuzberg’, the crowd’s ‘reward’ after the quartet mine a predictable encore after only 55 minutes of playing.

Luckily, the clattering, yapping ‘Ares’ rescues the pace from a grinding halt as lasers hoop and fritter across the ceiling, a pitch-perfect turn at ‘This Modern Love’ capitalising on the sharp turn in events.

“This next one is for my girls,” prods Okereke before a few snatches of Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’ prefaces an elated run of ‘Flux’ that seems to be the final curtain call.

The band return for a second encore however to play new number ‘Ratchet’, marked by syncopated guitars and rising chromatic melodies, another dance-influenced hybrid for the catalogue.

The genuinely tender ‘Truth’ follows, bridging the gap between the new track and the obvious courtesy of closing the night with ‘Helicopter’.

It’s a finish that’s as energetic as it is entirely expected, a microcosm for the evening as a whole. Bloc Party’s ostentatious songbook might be ferociously smart, but their live show currently isn’t.

In summary, Bloc Party’s current live show is on the one hand a flashy, frenetic display in both performance and the stunning light show that frames it, but the hamfisted stage banter and obvious festival-worn cliches ensure Bloc Party maintain their key characteristic: they’re divisive.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine