April 11, 2007

Harlem Bloc Partying

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In contrast to the roar of the two-thousand fans, the serene album scenery of Albert Hammond Jr’s freshman album Yours to Keep served as the stage’s background. Motorcycle and car noses introduced the solo Stroke, until he did it himself. “My name is Albert, and I’m opening.” For those who didn’t hear him over the wild applause, he repeated, “That’s ALVIN.” (To which rowdy male scenesters growled “WE LOVE YOU ALVIN.”)
“All the way in 175th Street! I told ‘em you wouldn’t come. I was wrong,” Albert said nonchalantly, noting the latitude of the Harlem club. “Apparently we’re the first rock concert here,” Hammond noted. “Bet those asses feel real good in cushions!”
Electro beats introduced the headliners, who began with their opening song on A Weekend in the City, ‘Song for Clay (Disappear Here.)” Flashing, jittery red spotlights danced while the two guitarists made their instruments roar and clamor. The song was a crescendo that started off loudly, at a Spinal Tap amp level of 11. Drummer Matt Tong took a break to point his sticks at the audience, signifying our participation in decrying “Easy London is a vampire/ It sucks the blood right out of me!” The audience of scenesters usually more interested in their haircut than their politics was all over participating when guitarists Kele Okereke or Russell Lissack asked them to clap the beat. “Positive Tension” with its snarl got the audience all jazzed up about apathy, and the light show blinded and disoriented everyone in their agitated state, ready to scream the refrain, “so fucking useless!”
“Blue Light” mellowed the crowd out, but only slightly because the first bars sent a craze through the orchestra and balcony sections both. At least the seizure-lights calmed the hell down to stable blue cross-hatched spotlights. They, of course predictably, flipped out again at the crescendo of the song. A great example of how live mellow dance punk is not necessarily a contradiction in words.
Bloc Party also felt the need to thoroughly thank the audience for “Coming up to Harlem,” before they played the next tune, “Hunting for Witches.” The lights continued to maintain their own stage presence, in a way hiding the band from the spotlight WITH the spotlights. Four silhouettes dances around strobed colors for just about the scariest iPod commercial ever. Apparently it psyched the Bloc-ers out as much as the audience, “I see you dancing, I see you dancing in your seats!” Lead singer Kele Okereke shouted, as energized as Hammond was blasé. “Go with the flow!” he urged. “This is not a Snow Patrol gig!”
Now that the audience was taunted, they again eagerly took over the hand-clapping duties for “waiting for the 7:18,” a song that oddly mixes triangles and room-shaking guitar shredding. The audience went more nuts with every passing song and every time Okereke or a band mate would run around the stage, or when Okereke showed off his jelly leg keeping the beat on the next song “Banquet.” Though Hammond put forth a valiant effort, no one hits those high notes like Okereke showed he can on that tune.
The started off “Where Is Home?” a capella, chanting “In every headline we are reminded/ that this is not home for us.” Matt Tong took off his T-shirt to unearth the hairiest Brit-asian New York had ever seen. His pecs continued to dance as much as his bandmates throughout the rest of the set. After this revelation, Okereke announced, “I think we’re all used to this venue now!”
A fan favorite, “This Modern Love,” was up next. This and the subsequent song, “the Prayer” thoroughly exhausted the audience, but they were all adamant about standing in front of the comfortable plush seats and feigning energy to dance. The piercing guitars alternating with Jedi gunfire noises reinvigorated the audience a bit, as did the motivational banter of the lead singer. “The ceiling is literally coming fown on me. It’s raining asbestos! But we’re not leaving! Especially tonight, NO WAY!”
Okereke dedicated the next song, “to all my ex-pats in the audience. We’ve got a lot of friends from England here today.” Apparently nothing gets a jaded, disenchanted American scenester more pumped than the British mirror of himself! Nonetheless, the audience and the band took a breather with “So Here We Are.” But back to the issue at hand, which was of course spastic, jittery dance-punk, everyone was out of their seats again for “Like Eating Glass.” Okereke ensured this by literally running from stage left to stage right with his arms outstretched. They put the seizure lights back and Russell Lissack went apeshit on his guitar while Okereke lead the anthem “we got crosses on our eyes/ Been walking into walls again.” After a brief break, the band was back for an encore with “I Still Remember” and “She’s Hearing Voices.”
The remarkable aspect of this show was the juxtaposition of an American example of post-punk performing to American scenesters versus the British version right after. Hammond’s coolness kept the audience swaying calmly in their seats, but Bloc Party’s energy got them jumping out of their seats and screaming lyrics. Guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the pond.