Bloc Party w/IO Echo at Cannery Ballroom, 1/18/13


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When you set out to see some aging indie-rock du jour live, as we did on Friday night when Bloc Party returned to Nashville for the first time since City Hall was still a thing, you go in with certain questions. Questions like: “Where the hell has Bloc Party Been for the past seven years?” and “Did they really put out two albums so mediocre that we forgot they existed?" But mostly, you wonder if anybody in 2013 really still cares about Bloc Party.

As it turns out, yes — people do still care about Bloc Party. It's just the exact same people who cared about them in 2005. The only difference is that you're a tad less party-ready in your 30s than in your 20s — a fact that would become completely obvious as an enthused but shiftless crowd struggled to meet frontman Kele Okereke's expectations.

When we arrived at Cannery, openers IO Echo had already taken the stage and were well into a set of ultra-dramatic pop music. Strobes a blazin' and lit only with blue backlights, IO Echo singer Ioanna Gika flailed around in the darkness like Stevie Nicks on Quaaludes, singing songs that sounded like Mazzy Star's record collection. We don't usually begrudge bands for taking their music in earnest, but there was something about their “serious business” vibe that put us off of their set. As pleasant as their songs may have been, they didn't feel like they earned their art-music trappings. You've got to be big and weird to pull that sort of pretense off and, at least at this point, IO Echo has neither.

After IO Echo packed up their Japanese folding screens and peaced out, we hung by the bar to watch all the indie-rock dads puttering around. At one point, a dude bought so many shots for his friends in the crowd that the bartenders had to supply him with a box to carry them in. That's the sort of dedication to drinking we can't help but respect. Nice work, bro. But mostly, we were surprised by how few people we recognized. After last weekend's local band blowout — where we saw everyone we've ever met from junior high school forward — being in a crowd that skewed decidedly older was jarring, to say the least.

Three drinks later, Bloc Party appeared onstage, opening their set with the almost comically on-the-nose “So Here We Are” off Silent Alarm. And for all of our curmudgeonly griping, we couldn't help but feel caught up in it. Bloc Party may not be as relevant as they were in 2005, but they're still showmen. Songs like “Hunting for Witches” and “Banquet” are still solid Brit dance-rock tunes, and the band wisely leaned on their first two records, occasionally kicking out newer tunes and mostly ignoring 2008's ultra-dull Intimacy.

And yet, for all of Okereke's attempts to get the crowd hyped — crowdsurfing, crowd participation, singing “One More Chance” on top of the bar — the room didn't turn into the dance party we expected. Part of that might just be the more grownup tone of last year's Four, but it also seemed like the crowd just wasn't all that interested in getting down. That plus the diminishing returns of your average Bloc Party record gave the band an uphill climb for winning over the crowd that they never quite conquered. Sure, there was a pocket of uber-fans who were losing their damn minds, but their excitement didn't spread into the rest of the flannel brigade.

The crowd may not have been falling all over themselves for some Bloc Party, and we may have been bummed they didn't stack their set with uptempo singles, but Okereke did deliver a pretty sick burn to Manti Te'o when he introduced “So He Begins To Lie.” As far as we're concerned, that plus a second encore which started with a Rihanna cover (“We Found Love”) and ended with “Helicopter” made the whole thing worth it.

But seriously though, would it have killed them to play “Octopus"?


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