You can usually expect a stellar lineup when it comes to NME’s annual tour, and the cast for 2016 is no exception. The tried and tested Bloc Party and Drenge were joined by newcomers RATBOY and Bugzy Malone, who certainly offer something different compared to the guitar led bands that have seemed to dominate the tour in recent years. Such variation highlights how the influx in grime and more alternative music has blossomed over the past year.
Drenge certainly have the armoury to propel themselves into the mainstream flow, and Saturday’s performance was a demonstration of their raw talent. There’s a certain ruggedness to their performance that is best showcased with ‘Bloodsports’, which unconsciously stirs many inside the academy into undiluted chaos. The sheer raucousness of their set sets them aside from many bands, with their live material definitely being individually unique in the form of their thrashing sound, which is riddled with gnarly riffs and murky lyrics. The Derbyshire boys do show that they can mix it up though, with ‘Fuckabout’ showcasing a slightly more emotive side to them. At times their material can seem quite repetitive and monotonous; however, Drenge are undoubtedly one of the best live bands around at the moment, in terms of their sheer stage presence.
It’s fair to say that Bloc Party currently seem to be stuck in the midst of an identity crisis, which is hardly surprising given their well-documented lineup alterations. Although the mellowed new material, from recently released album Hymns, has been well received in sections, it fails to meet expectations when thrust into a live setting. Opening with ‘The Good News’ and the equally sombre ‘Only He Can Heal Me’, the band fail to stir much more than a whimper, with it becoming immediately clear that the majority of people in the room are here for one reason. Cult classic Bloc.
The electronically spiked ‘Mercury’ reinvigorates a seemingly soulless Manchester Academy, with the return to yester-year’s material showcasing just why Bloc Party still continue to be held in such high esteem amongst adoring fans. ‘Song for Clay (Disappear Here)’ and ‘Banquet’ are as equally well received, with the latter inducing mass hysteria amongst those revelers who have come solely with the intention of re-living their teenage years. It’s safe to say, they weren’t hard to spot; note the girl crying with tears of joy to my left.
Something that became evident was the lack of energy amongst the band, as they drifted their way through the mid-section of the set, which seemed particularly flat. The loss of a rhythm section, containing the incredibly talented Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes, has hit the group hard with that chaotic demeanor being hard to replicate, given the stature of the departed members.
To their credit, Bloc Party excel in delivering an encore that’s laden with fan favourites, resulting in mass delirium among those present. Frontman Kele Okereke’s vocals are not required for hit single ‘Helicopter’, with the crowd being all too willing to fill in for him. Closing with the quirky ‘Ratchet’ leaves many people grooving gleefully, although there’s a certain dissatisfaction generally with many subconsciously mourning the loss of such jerky sounds that defined Bloc Party’s original form, which seem to have been sacrificed for Okereke’s more dance based desires.
Whether the contents of Hymns will eventually be received in the same manner as gems from Silent Alarm and A Weekend in the City is yet to be seen, but the relaxed pace of almost the entirety of the new album will irk fans who’re accustomed to a more raucous combination of turbulent strings and destructive percussion.
Read our interview with Bloc Party here.