The roof is falling down. Or is it the ceiling? It doesn’t matter. We get what Kele Okereke means. He doesn’t need to be precise. All we know is plaster is coming down, landing on the stage, being held up, cheered. It’s evidence of “rocking hard”. No one rolls their eyes at his conclusion, or at the phrase. Or if they do, it’s because they’re standing near the back, or sitting up in the galleries, under crosses and stained-glass windows. Near the front, there’s no time for cynicism/fact-checking/cliché-policing [delete as appropriate]. Near the front, there’s no such thing as personal space, or midweek moderation. There’s no such thing as standing still. There is beer in my hair, sweat in my eyes. I try to catch my breath, assess inertia in the people around me, their mass and height. The next song starts. The crowd begins to move. I am scared. I am smiling.
Before the gig, when I mention going to see Bloc Party, it makes a hipster out of almost everyone I speak to: “I like their earlier stuff better.” When I tell people about it afterwards, they’re more reproving parents who went to a festival that one time and still listen to Radio 1: “What were you expecting? It’s Bloc Party!” My surprise at what happens at the gig is just one of many things that disqualifies me from attending, let alone reviewing, it. An incomplete inventory: although the second gig I ever went to was a rock gig, I wore my hair in butterfly clips and cried because I’d never worn eyeliner before and because I was upset that my friends were smoking. (I had cried at my first-ever gig, too, but that was Michael Jackson, so.) When I got a piercing as an act of rebellion and because everyone else was getting one, I got my ears pierced. Another act of rebellion: dyeing my hair. Brown. And I once got over a man telling me nothing in his life would ever be as important to him as philosophy, including me, by drinking a whole double-size bottle of Lambrini, dancing to Killing In The Name Of, shouting the “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” part and feeling really cool, and then getting into a ten-year relationship with a man who liked Tori Amos the week after that.
All the festivals I’ve been to have been too muddy and at all the gigs before tonight, I’ve stood at the back or been up in the galleries. So I don’t see any of it coming. I don’t check my bag. I don’t take off my earrings. I don’t object when we move into the gaps – inexplicable, to me – near the front of the crowd. Here, there is cologne on the air first, beer second. All of a sudden, I feel very foreign. A man in a shiny grey suit, no tie, throws his arms around the shoulders of strangers. Teenage boys as lidless and smooth as the Valencia filter take pills just in front of us and still I have no fucking idea what’s about to happen. PW – British, a festival hacks kind of guy, so aerial he is part pogo stick or lemur, and for brevity, my boyfriend – and I wonder where they’ll go onto afterwards, sneak our hands, cold from condensation, into each other’s shirts, agree our spot is very good (though for different reasons). When the band comes on stage, opening with two relatively quiet tracks from the newest album, I’m still clueless. Swaying and clueless. Laughing at the conversation behind me, about frontman Kele’s biceps: “Look at those arms! He’s gotten fucking huge. He could lift you up and down. Even you he could lift!”
But when the third track starts – She’s Hearing Voices, from their first album – it hits me. Literally, it being everyone around me. And figuratively: this is not a swaying gig. Move or get hurt. So I move. And it’s more than a vertical motion. Jumping isn’t enough. There are hands in my back, pushing, and I put my hands up too, to try to keep some space between me and the people in front of me. Room for error. The crowd moves forwards and backwards, like something breathing, and for a second I think about flocking, birds and screensavers, but then the band is playing Mercury and I’m just moving again.
And it’s terrifying. We’re surrounded, it seems, by men. Men too big, up close, to see around, and who I find it hard to believe see me. Men like cliffs. But I find if I keep moving, albeit yelping slightly every time it feels a little precarious, and so yelping a lot, it’s OK. More than OK. Exhilarating. Our backs are damp with sweat and spilled beer, arms slick. A mother and son dance just on the edge of the…pit? I guess I’d always thought of pits as literal depressions in the floor. But nope, this probably counts as a pit. Anyway, he runs interference to keep people from bouncing into her, but she looks like she’d be able to handle it. She lifts her arms in a V, fingers pointed; he smiles into the pint she probably pretended was for her. They both know all the words. I keep expecting a fight to break out – this looks like violence, or, at the very least, rugby – but people only smile.
My True Name brings a brief interlude for swaying. I must be wide-eyed because PW assures me: “Trust the crowd. If you fall, they’ll help you up straight away.” And sure enough, when someone falls on top of him, people are quick to help them both up. Still, I can’t help but think that trusting a crowd is maybe something that comes more easily to men. By The Prayer, the only Bloc Party I know all the words to, men have taken their shirts off. A woman in cut-offs and fishnets is lifted onto shoulders, but soon she is down again, pinballing into her friends. Tonight make me unstoppable. Then onto Octopus. Circles are cleared, three or four men holding the crowd back, waiting for the chorus or for the beat to drop, and when it does, people slam through into the space, into each other.
Live, the new stuff, particularly pretend set-closer The Love Within, sounds less like a paranoid wasp trapped in a can of Coke. More guitary, more like music. Which is always good. On our right, while the rest of the crowd claps for the encore, a small group crouches down to light cigarettes. PW tells me I should go forward when the music starts, into the circles, properly into the pit, but I’m the kind of person who falls down a lot and so is scared of falling down. Plus I’m nervous about being near bobbing embers.
Sunday – I love you in the morning / When you’re still hungover – and people are singing into each other’s faces and I realise that what’s good about guitar bands from the noughties is that the songs are so neat, reliable and reliably emotive, the feelings packaged up, contained within the space of the song. Maybe that’s due to the songwriting, or because the sound has become a brand or become the past, but there’s less bleeding out into uncertainty. The kind of comfort my Discover Weekly playlist doesn’t provide. Onto Helicopter and it’s 2005 again and everyone shouts – North to south! Some things will never be different. PW puts his arms around my waist and spins us both deeper into the crowd, and there is no stopping now. When I think about it afterwards, about how tonight was the first time for this, about how the fear was bearable, enjoyable even, I think maybe it’s half down to me and half down to him, someone different, someone who isn’t scared of falling down. Or maybe more than half down to me. I wear eyeliner all the time now after all.
We jump into each other – he holding his glasses, me my bag – and into the crowd, slamming against bone and denim and leather, held upright by bodies on a beat. Everyone sings. Are you hoping for a miracle? It’s not enough. Ahead of us, printed on the back of a t-shirt wet through with sweat: Safety In Numbers. Maybe it’s the beer and the breathlessness, but tonight, that seems to mean something. Maybe it even does.