If there’s one theme tying together every act at Saturday’s NME Awards Tour, it’s new beginnings.
NME itself, having re-launched as a free magazine to massive criticism, is in something of a soul-searching phase currently, and in sense, so too are all of the artists from the evening’s lineup.
Bugzy Malone, rising star of the hip-hop scene, is fighting to prove he’s more than just another Grime rapper, a genre often labeled as being a fad. Rat Boy and Drenge are also looking for their place in the music world, with Drenge having just come out with a new album that showcases a beefier sound. And then of course there’s Bloc Party, currently touring with a new lineup and an eclectic collection of new material.
It seems that all involved in Saturday’s show are out to prove themselves, and all are looking for a happy ending to their new beginnings.
Bugzy Malone kicked off proceedings with a lively, albeit uninventive set. However, despite the lacking instrumental variety, he made good use of his vocal prowess, at one point indulging in a ferocious solo flow which culminated in what can only be described as a filthy drop.
Next up were Rat Boy, who practically tumbled onstage in a ramshackle mess of scruffy clothes and teenage cheekiness. Entertainingly petulant throughout, the youthful foursome were hugely enjoyable, ballsy, and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
Drenge, arguably the underdogs of the evening, delivered just as exciting a set. However, the band seemed at times far too clean-cut and calculated for the kind of dirty modern rock they were dishing out; they lacked a sense of danger that bands of their category should carry with them at all times. This didn’t detract from the audience’s enjoyment of their set though, as crowd surfers were being dragged from the mass of bodies at least once per song, particularly noticeable during ‘Bloodsports’.
And then Bloc Party arrived.
Lead singer Kele, sauntering onstage in what can only be described as pajamas, greeted the crowd with his usual cordiality, as the band not so much launched but initiated their set. Beginning with ‘The Good News’ wasn’t the explosive start that everyone was anticipating. It seemed to undercut the visceral excitement that had been built up by the previous acts. The next few new tracks were received with some excitement, but not nearly as much as you’d expect from a band of Bloc Party’s status. At times, the members even seemed nervous; Russell and Kele looked bored during ‘Banquet’, a song which was a little sloppy in its performance. Not that anyone cared of course, any and all Bloc Party material pre-dating 2010 caused nothing short of a hysteria. Classics like ‘Helicopter’ and ‘She’s Hearing Voices’ were met with thundering applause, as was ‘Flux’.
But throughout the set, however much the crowd were loving it, there was the inescapable feeling that Bloc Party were desperately trying to get the audience to love their new material, material which just isn’t as strong as their older work. No matter how good the band were, no matter how inventive the sampling or poignant the lyrics, the longing for great Bloc Party classics such as ‘Like Eating Glass’ and ‘The Pioneers’ was there, and that’s a shame, because performance-wise, the band were virtually flawless.
What’s clear is that Bloc Party’s new lineup doesn’t detract from their live impact, and I’m certain that the crowd left the venue satisfied, even craving more. But for this reviewer, the way that the band’s classics outshone the rest of the set is a sad sign that they have little more to offer their fanbase.
Overall though, the evening was a blast, and if nothing else, it demonstrated that there’s plenty of fresh musical meat on offer for the future.
Originally published in The Mancunion 15/02/2016