Bloc Party rocked loudly, rolled gladly

Bert B. Sulat Jr.
The London-based indie rock band came out of their first Philippine concert as happy as their fans

LEADING THE WAY. Bloc Party lead vocalist-lyricist Kele Okereke sang his heart out -- so did the audience. All photos by Ike Sulat

MANILA, Philippines – “Hello, Manila. We are Bloc Party from London. Sorry it took us so long to get here.” 

That was lead vocalist-rhythm guitarist Kele Okereke greeting the audience of his indie rock band’s Philippine debut last March 22, his every sentence eliciting hearty cheers from the gathering of teens, young adults, and midlifers. 

The spectators’ huge roar implied two things: One, it has indeed been close to a decade since the release of their celebrated debut album, 2005’s “Silent Alarm” and its punchy first single “Banquet.” Two, what’s important was they were here now. 

And boy, was the crowd mighty glad to behold the English foursome, the eventual couple of hours of live Bloc Partying winding up as a show of mutual admiration between the viewers and the viewed.

BE HERE NOW. Eight years later, Bloc Party go live in Manila 

The crowd of some 2,000 mostly Filipino fans got treated to aural aperitifs before the visiting band started rocking Hall D of Pasay City’s World Trade Center.

Much sonic warmup filled the air at dinner hour, the buffet of tasteful rarities or less-exposed delights (e.g., The Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling”) served up by Par Sallan, a music industry insider slash outsider who also puts the “par” in party on Tuesdays at the Borough, a New York-themed resto at The Podium.

At a little past 8 pm, all eyes and ears zeroed in on the stage as the opening band, Pinoy indie darlings Up Dharma Down, began their assignment of being Bloc Party’s opening act (though not for the first time). The 9-year-old group — coincidentally, like BP, comprised by the same 4 individuals since their own inception — was nothing short of mesmerizing, their brooding, after-hours kind of rock finding a contrast anew in their onstage intensity. 

LIGHT OUT. Armi Millare of opening act Up Dharma Down was louder musically than visually

Curious, however, was the absence of any spotlight on vocalist-keyboardist Armi Millare, the bright beams instead touching her bandmates: bassist Paul Yap, drummer Ean Mayor, and lead guitarist Carlos Tanada. Whether that lack of lighting was by design or not, Up Dharma Down effectively ran through a 5-song, all-original set and, to quote one of their newer singles, did “Turn It Well.”

(Kudos to this gig’s primary producer-sponsor, Warner Music Philippines, for not limiting the program’s pre-Bloc Party fare to those from its own roster — be it in Sallan’s playlist or in having UDD, a Terno Recordings signee, open the show.)

MANILA! Okereke gratefully received the energy Bloc Party's Filipino fans happily gave them

Brisk. That best describes Bloc Party’s own, full-length turn at the stage last March 22

For one thing, majority of their setlist — which, counting two encores, featured 20 songs in all — featured many of their uptempo tracks, such as the throbbing opener “So He Begins to Lie,” the electro-fueled, Blondie-recalling “Flux” or the frenetic, jittery “Team A.” 

For another, the band played many of its already fast tracks in an almost fast-forward mode, rendering the likes of “Hunting for Witches” and “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)” sounding even more uppity — and better — than they do on record. And in at least two instances, Bloc Party let one song go then promptly segued into another — but without sounding like a showband medley — as when they switched from the heady noise of “Song for Clay” to the eternal high of “Banquet.”

Yet Bloc Party was not at all in a hurry to get back to the hotel and chill. 

Watch a fan video of Bloc Party performing ‘Truth’ at Pasay City’s World Trade Center here:

Across their roughly 100 minutes in all onstage, Okereke, the unassuming pair of lead guitarist Russell Lissack and bassist-keyboardist-glockenspiel-ist Gordon Moakes, and the shirtless, at times wacky drummer Matt Tong seemed pleased to oblige the audience with a smorgasbord of newer tunes — off their 2012 disc “Four” — and a few hits off 2009’s “Intimacy” and 2007’s “A Weekend in the City,” plus a loaded helping off “Silent Alarm.” 

Okereke, in particular, often crowd-conversed, ranging from explanatory (“This is a song about public transport,” he dished before “Waiting for the 7.18”) to motivational (“…for those who have a little fight left inside them,” he intro-ed pre-“Ares”) and encouraging (“Don’t be shy. Don’t be polite. It’s time to get down!” after a scorching rendition of “Mercury” and “Don’t be shy. We’re all friends here,” before launching into the call-and-response mania of “One More Chance”).    

PULLING SOME STRINGS. Russell Lissack, who cofounded Bloc Party with Okereke, let his guitar do the talking

There was no Philippine flag-wearing stunt or any cheeky mouthing of a Tagalog line from these guys. Instead, Okereke punctuated his small talk with several mentions of “Manila,” the gesture more gratifying than condescending.  

As the crowd exploded into pandemonium and out-loud sing-along during the likes of “This Modern Love” and the night’s closer, “Helicopter,” a thought crossed my mind: Given that local radio these days is largely unreceptive to indie rock, how did the thousands of people here know about Bloc Party? 

MULTI-MUSICIAN. Gordon Moakes was by turns bass player, keyboardist, glockenspiel hitter, and backing vocalist

A faux-hawked, cameraphone-videoing dude across me at the back half of the seatless venue gave me an emblematic answer: “We had heard them on NU 107 then followed them on the Internet,” referring to the now-defunct, much-missed FM station that played alternative rock. 

(As it happens, former NU disc jockey Francis S. Reyes, lately of Radio Republic, was there, his familiar voice mouthing off the obligatory sponsor acknowledgements and World Trade Center dos and don’ts — but was devilish enough to let loose a juicy “Bloc f*&%#!@ Party!!!” with the mike on once the big show was all over. Sallan himself has an NU connection, having orchestrated its Clash-inspired, Saturday-night block-timer “Pirate Satellite.”)

WITH GREAT POWER. Bloc Party drummer-vocalist Matt Tong, who resembled Andrew 'Peter Parker' Garfield from afar, exposed much skin as he pounded the skins

As the night wore on, the audience proved Okereke right: We were indeed all friends there. 

On the one hand, there was this vibe of pleasantness throughout the cavernous venue, emanating mainly from gangs of attendees who danced with or hugged each other at the sheer joy of being present, basking in the live performance of a band they grew up to. 

Best of all, there was a connection between the audience and the band members themselves. The crowd constantly gave off reactive energy and sang heartily to the more familiar tunes, frequently prompting the awed and smiling Okereke to let the audience take over as vocalist.  

LOUD ALL AROUND. 'Bloc Party Live in Manila' was sight-and-sound heavy

In the end, the fans — generous and generally energized in their receptiveness — and the musicians themselves — who bid farewell with a lovely group bow — were visibly satiated, all having taken in an invigorating dose of ear-splitting alternative rock. 

When Okereke belted “I figured it out!” in “So Here We Are,” it actually sounded like he was shouting, “I feel alive!” Everyone in the hall, liberated by their fleeting time with the touring act, would agree that we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. –

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