Bloc Party, Rat Boy and Drenge rolled into Southampton on Saturday for the second night of a 12-show tour. As part of the 21st NME Awards Tour, which has thrown up some memorable moments over the years, the bands played to a half-filled O2 Guildhall in a gig that didn’t live up to expectations. A small audience in a large venue is never conducive to creating a great atmosphere, although there was something else lacking from this show.
I must be honest, I am a massive Bloc Party fan. This was my fourth time seeing them live but it must be said that I was a little disappointed. They played a series of tracks from their back catalogue alongside some new songs from Hymns, their fifth studio album released two days before the show. A fresh line-up graced the stage in the form of new drummer Louise Bartle and bassist Justin Harris, who joined the ever-familiar Kele Okereke and original member Russell Lissak. The band, back after a near two year hiatus, went through the motions of their hour-and-a-bit set without hitting the heights that they have done on previous occasions.
The crowd warmed to ‘Waiting for the 7.18’, ‘Song for Clay’ and ‘Banquet’, which were mid-set highlights. An encore including ‘Helicopter’ and ‘This Modern Love’ got the crowd going. Personally, however, ‘One More Chance’ was a personal favourite; never being part of an album meant it was a song that had never been part of a tour, but seeing it live was fantastic. This must, however, be put into perspective: these songs were highlights in a gig that was disappointing. Yes, they were better than the rest, but fans expect more from a band who have been a leading influence in the indie music scene since being nominated for NME Best New Band, NME Best Album and a Mercury Prize in 2005. The new songs were known only by the most die-hard fans, as the album had only been on sale for the previous two days, and there was a palpable difference in atmosphere when new material was being covered. This was a massive disappointment, as the new album marks a reinvention for a band who had previously headed down an electronic path, but the performance did not do justice to the music on the record.
The first act on was Jordan Cardy, who goes by his stage name Rat Boy, a 19-year-old from Essex whose music is a mix between indie and hip-hop akin to artists like Jamie T and The Streets. He was recently listed on the BBC’s longlist for Sound of 2016 and MTV’s Brand New for 2016. Although, personally, I was not a fan of this kind of music, Rat Boy entertained the crowd and was let down only by the speakers not being able to deal with the equaliser settings that were used. The artist cannot be blamed for this, and his technicians will hopefully sort this for future shows as his lyrics were indistinguishable and drew away from what was an energetic performance on-stage.
Drenge followed, a two-piece alternative-rock band similar to Bloc Party touring their second album. They put in a solid performance and warmed the small crowd for the main event. With an album that debuted at No. 14 in the UK album charts and a performance on Later with Jools Holland meant that the majority of the audience had likely been exposed to Drenge. Their experience with playing live was obvious, and they moved seamlessly through their set and kept the crowd entertained.
This was, however, a gig that never quite hit the expectations that had been built up beforehand. Rat Boy and Drenge put in solid performances, though that was not the reason the crown had turned up. Bloc Party were the main attraction and they disappointed. They went through the motions of their set, though there was a lack of verve and energy which was the difference between this and other gigs of theirs I have been to. It could be said my disappointment may be due to the fact I am a massive fan of Bloc Party, but I would say that means I am almost easily pleased. I wanted them to do well, to play great music and entertain me: on Saturday that didn’t quite happen.