A version of my review originally appeared at soundcheck.ocregister.com
KROQ gathered alt-rock’s leading lights to its Almost Acoustic Christmas concert in Los Angeles on Saturday.
But two popular indie rock acts with less prominent airplay on the station (via veteran tastemaker DJ Rodney on the Roq’s show, heard early Mondays at midnight) also drew a sold out crowd the same time further down south in Santa Ana.
Both Bloc Party and Dum Dum Girls’ current studio efforts reached top 10 on CMJ's college radio chart - another example of how The Observatory continues to lure red hot talent.
And word has definitely spread. Bloc Party singer/guitarist Kele Okereke noted early in the London band’s exhilarating 80-minute OC gig that “we’ve heard a lot about how awesome this venue is.” Later, he would concede, “they were right; this is a fun place to play.”
Back home, Bloc Party performs in much larger places, having burst onto the scene in a big way there with 2005’s platinum-selling debut CD “Silent Alarm.” It went onto to notch another pair of top 10 albums and nearly a dozen top 20 U.K. singles before going on hiatus in 2009. Unlike fellow British angular guitar rocker Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party’s stateside success has been limited though. Muscular new album “Four” finds the quartet ditching most electronic touches that characterized previous releases for a leaner, more roughhewn approach.
The set here kicked off with an intense “So He Begins to Lie,” the first of seven selections from “Four.” Russell Lissack displayed a mind-blowing array of guitar effects and loops, usually with the same instrument. The skittering “Trojan Horse,” where shirtless drummer Matt Tong steadily increased the pace and everyone engaged in some metallic interplay, was a prime example.
Fans immediately roared their approval upon Lissack’s squealing “Hunting for Witches” noises and those in the pit area pogoed right along. Clad in black shorts and a t-shirt that read “support your local artist,” Okereke yelped with abandon during the furious Gang of Four-esque “Positive Tension.”
The frontman continually engaged the crowd. His falsetto was put to good use on “Real Talk,” a gorgeous, chiming “Day 4” and soulful assault “Song for Clay (Disappear Here).” Lissack triggered some sonic blips during the latter. They delved straight into the panic-stricken vibe of “Banquet” - Bloc Party’s biggest U.S. alt-rock hit - as Okereke continually shouted “I’m on Fire!”
Bassist Gordon Moakes took to the keyboards for the propulsive dance/hard rock guitar stabs amid “One More Chance.” Okereke got some audience participation going and crowd surfing commenced. Local fans got treated to fine versions of “The Prayer,” plus a moody “The Healing” - neither of which has made it onto recent setlists.
Bloc Party’s first encore included a fiery, Prodigy-styled “Ares.” The singer declared it “a fighting song” and danced around to the clarion call guitar. Moakes returned to the synth for the vibrant “Flux,” introduced by a snatch of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.”
All told, the band was sharp as ever.
Darkly seductive song “Always Looking” opened the unassuming, yet well-received 45-minute, 12-song set. Leader Dee Dee’s mellifluous, reverb-drenched vocals were great on the fast-paced “I Got Nothing.” Intriguing religious lyrical imagery enveloped some songs (“Lord Knows,” “Catholicked”); others benefited from group harmonies. Among the highlights: the poppy “Bedroom Eyes, dreamy “Teardrops on My Pillow” and Mazzy Star vibe of “Coming Down.”
Bloc Party, The Observatory, Santa Ana, Dec. 8, 2012
Setlist: So He Begins to Lie/Trojan Horse/Hunting for Witches/Positive Tension/Team A/Real Talk/Waiting for the 7:18/Song for Clay (Disappear Here)/Banquet/Coliseum/Day 4/One More Chance/The Prayer
First encore: The Healing/Ares/We Found Love>Flux/Helicopter
Second encore: Octopus/This Modern Love