@ Leeds Cockpit
The anticipation is something else and, on this sweltering night, The Cockpit is crammed with rabid Bloc Party fans. Tonight is the opening night of his first solo tour – the beginning of a new era or just a chance to see part of Bloc Party up close in a small venue? The adulation as Kele arrives on stage is tumultuous and by the end of the night he is signing a ticket on stage and throwing sweaty towels into the crowd, like some latter-day Elvis. Whether that adulation is justified depends on where you are standing. Kele can clearly put a belting rhythm together but I’m not at all sure he’s the best performer in his own band.
He opens the set with the album opener and some blistering electronic beats followed by some sampled crunching synth-beat and the effect his band works up is powerful. Kele is buried in the mix and acts mostly as a figurehead unless you know the lyrics. Once or twice he seems to be in the way of a raving good time. The band is keyboards, drums and someone on bass, computer, percussion and more keys. It’s definitely not Bloc Party but if you’ve travelled the four albums with them you’ll not be surprised at the direction Kele has chosen to go. Bloc Party always straddled two genres, sometimes successfully, sometimes, increasingly so recently, uncomfortably – the indie and the dance. Kele is now nailing the indie vocal line to electronic pulses and there are definitely times when the vocal line is an anchor on the dance lines. Except that, with all the sampling, he just gets run over and submerged by the beats.
Fronting a ravey set – strip-lights, strobes, dark patches and a Kele neon sign, dressed in sports vest, baseball cap and metallic baseball boots, the intention is clear, so it is a surprise when he drops back to the occasional croon and indie clap-a-long. In songs like Everything You Wanted he steps back to an older, indie-stadium, time. “You may know I’m in another band”, he says, choosing to use the present tense in a move that will please Bloc Party fans. He runs through a Bloc Party number, One More Chance, and the crowd goes wild, leaping about, thrusting arms aloft and singing as an extended workout ensues. Single, Tenderoni, goes down well with its farty synth. Into The Light returns us to traditional songs and it’s the end of the gig.
Except it isn’t – there’s a three-song encore, opening with a nifty and tuneful Unholy Thoughts, which could have sprung from a mid-eighties New Order album – all drum pattern and synth. Another Bloc Party track is aired before things slow right down for All The Things I Could Never Say – “you’re making me old, you’re making me ill”. The crowd sings along affectionately and he leaves the stage. A moment or two later he returns: “It’s the first night, so one more”, he says. “We were calling for the same old song”, he sings and the crowd jumps about and shouts, well aware that, though this crowd laps up the old songs, they’re happy with the new ones too.
It’s been a warm welcome for Kele’s new phase from a room of Bloc Party fans. Clearly they don’t object, like many did, to the direction Bloc Party have been going and the room empties sweatily into the Leeds night. Kele just needs to sort out his mix, the lighting and grab the reins of frontman of the group that plays his songs.