Bloc Party brings big show to a small crowd at Liberty Hall

01/22/2013 9:27 PM

05/16/2014 8:52 PM

Bloc Party is accustomed to playing for massive crowds on outdoor stages in Europe and Asia.

The British band crammed its gear into Lawrence’s Liberty Hall on Sunday. In spite of the venue’s relatively intimate size, the venue wasn’t nearly full. If the members of the band were disappointed by the sparse turnout, they didn’t let it show.

“You’re here. We’re here,” frontman Kele Okereke said. “We’re making it work.”

His band’s performance didn’t merely work. Okereke and his cohorts gave a stadium-size effort for an audience of about 600 fans. Rather than behaving like disinterested rock stars performing on a cold night for a small crowd of Midwesterners, Bloc Party assumed the identity of an impassioned bar band with something to prove.

For 90 minutes the band showcased a sound that falls neatly between the blatantly commercial aspirations of acts like Coldplay and the willfully obscure experimentation of the indie rock underground. Bloc Party may not be particularly innovative, but it distills the best ideas of other artists into a pleasing amalgam of styles.

“Silent Alarm,” its 2005 debut album, remains the band’s most successful and beloved project. The quartet seemed determined to demonstrate that the new material is just as vital.

The off-kilter dance-rock of “Octopus” from the 2012 album “Four” served as a rousing opening number. The band verified its ongoing ability to compose memorable material with other new songs, including the sinewy “Real Talk,” the dubstep-infused “Ratchet” and “So He Begins to Lie,” a song Okereke dedicated to football star Manti Te’o.

Even so, the audience responded most enthusiastically to old favorites like “Banquet” and “Helicopter.” The quartet’s taut musicianship impressed. As guitarist Russell Lissack issued a steady stream of state-of-the-art modern rock riffs, the grooves dished out by bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong kept fans near the stage in constant motion.

While the band was lean, its massive light show was excessive. Members of the audience had to shield their eyes from the blinding array.

Opening act EO Echo, a Los Angeles-based duo augmented by two additional musicians, also favored extreme effects. Illuminated by strobe lights, vocalist Ioanna Gika pranced across the stage like an unfettered Fiona Apple to a backdrop of imposing industrial synth-pop.

The evening’s ostentatious lighting displays may have been better suited to larger venues, but Bloc Party admirably showed that it can deliver a potent performance to a modest gathering of devoted enthusiasts.

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