All words: Farrah Skeiky — All photos: Shauna Alexander
Ross Farrar is scaling the walls.
Ceremony aren’t fazed, because unlike most of the 9:30 Club, their singer’s behavior isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Sure, a couple of smirks as Farrar climbs up speaker stacks and pulls himself up onto the backstage balcony. But everyone on stage is already deep into a nerve-wracking introduction of “Into the Wayside/Sick,” possibly one of the best intros to any punk album released in the past five years.
“Hey, Listen!” He yells. “We’re Ceremony. We’re from L.A. We’re going to play some songs.” Well received by a somewhat baffled crowd, Farrar finds himself back on stage and dives right in. This is how you introduce yourself to new fans.
At first, this lineup seemed arbitrary, but considering Ceremony’s recent success with their fourth record Zoo, and the sporadic heavy bursts that characterize Bloc Party’s Four, it begins to make sense. The two bands are meeting in the middle of a strange spectrum. But despite the heavy post-punk influence in Zoo, Ceremony perform all of their songs in the same hardcore style as their earlier records. It would be alienating if Farrar wasn’t on some other level high, which is a passable excuse for his manic stage persona to those who have never seen him perform. In truth, this is Farrar on stage, sober or otherwise. He wraps himself in the mic cord, thrashes against monitors, and climbs on all that can be climbed.
As expected, Ceremony deliver a tenacious set constructed primarily of tracks from Zoo, much more fitting for this tour, and this wins over many Bloc Party devotees. But a block of three songs off the much earlier Violence, Violence seduces diehard Ceremony fans into storming through the crowd, opening up a pit, and regrettably distracting first time listeners from what was happening on stage. Someone questions how on earth the crowd could be this riled up for the opener on a Sunday night, but this is typically how a Ceremony show starts. Ceremony knew their crowd and for the most part, performed accordingly. It’s still a bit strange to see Farrar spend so much time on stage, and not wading through a roaring crowd. It’s even stranger when they end on the muted drone and spent notes of “Video.”
Matt Tong is sporting some mean jorts.
By the time Bloc Party emerge, we’ve been grilled by house lights for far too long. Kele Okereke feels it too. “I don’t know about you, D.C, but I’m hot. I’m hot chocolate.” This, however, fails to disrupt the drive of the set. In fact it produces a heightened sense of urgency that mirrors that of the audience. It’s sparked not only by the band’s reputation for enthralling performances, but also by relief that a band with such a heavy hand in defining the mid-2000s is back from hiatus, and that the hiatus resulted in an amazing fourth record. “Mercury” is a gem early on, translating so much better live than I had ever expected. In fact, the few tracks off Intimacy are surprisingly on point tonight, occasionally more so than tracks off more popular and arguably better records.
The shredding guitar that defines Four is reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age’s Rated R, particularly “We Are Not Good People.” So many of us were hoping for it, but something’s missing. This song should shatter, but Bloc Party seem a couple steps away from delivering the full blow this song merits. Similar feelings arise during “Coliseum” (I would kill for them to break out a banjo for this one) and “Like Eating Glass,” when songs are almost as aggressive as they should be, but not quite.
But there’s only so much one complain when Bloc Party are, in every other capacity, delivering a tremendous performance, and I think the band is aware of this fact. They shift quickly from “serious songs” to “party songs” to “fighting songs” in a seamless, well-constructed set that erupted. I can recall few moments that measure up to swelling sing alongs of “Banquet” and “This Modern Love.” We’re even lucky enough (“We” being the ladies, to whom this bit is dedicated) to enjoy the serendipitous fusion of “We Found Love/Flux.”
Seeing Bloc Party for the first time at this point in their lifetime can only be described as gratifying. Unlike Ceremony, Bloc Party perform songs in the same style as their recordings– not to say that the performance is a note to note regurgitation, but that the styles of each album are still clear, and the original attitudes and intentions are not lost despite the years that have passed. Their evolution is so tangible that while I’m sure I missed a few special moments over the years, I haven’t missed out on hearing these songs as they were meant to be played. And after four very different albums, very few bands can say that.
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