Pleasant surprises are always good, like finding change under couch cushions or acing an exam you didn’t study for. For the lucky folks who packed San Luis Obispo’s Veterans’ Hall on Sunday night to see the double-whammy lineup of Menomena and Bloc Party, they experienced just that: Instead of attending a really good show, they witnessed a mind-blowing, knock-your-socks-off concert event.
Menomena started off their 45-minute set with an explosion of drums and saxophone. The band’s three members are all multi-instrumentalists, and they each took turns as lead singer with their closing song, “West,” exposing intricate harmonies. This last song, perhaps more than any other, indicated that the Portland-based band eschews the typical “one person, one role” approach of so many other groups.
The trio certainly earned some converts on Sunday; although there were a few fist-pumping fans at the front who sang along to every tune, the majority seemed content to soak in the accelerating drumbeats and delicate piano lines of “Boyscout’n” and “Wet and Rusting.” But by the end of the set, there were some enthusiastic head-bobbers who quickly made their way to the merch table once Menomena headed offstage.
“Signs,” off 2008’s Intimacy, immediately set the tone for Bloc Party’s energetic and virtually flawless performance. After struggling to pronounce San Luis Obispo in his thick British accent, lead singer Kele Okereke pounded his way through “Hunting for Witches” and “Positive Tension,” promising that the night would be full of old and new numbers. Although Okereke has claimed repeatedly that he’s painfully shy, none of that was on display on Sunday as he chatted with his bandmates and the crowd, and flashed his disarmingly bright smile whenever the audience scream-alonged with him. “You have to pace yourselves out there, and we have to pace ourselves up here,” Okereke yelled into the mike. “The night’s just begun.”
And boy was he right. After looking around and remarking on the intimate venue (“We’ve never rocked a school hall before,” Okereke said), the foursome dished out a raucous dance party and light show. “Talons” bled into “Banquet,” their first-ever single, making for more than nine minutes of solid dancing. If that weren’t enough, Okereke climbed off the stage and into the audience during the first seconds of “Mercury,” belted out the chorus while crowd surfing toward the back, and closed out the number while on top of the sound equipment in the back of the building. After finishing up their regular set with “Like Eating Glass,” the band came back with “Blue Light” (complete with, you guessed it, a blue light show), a moshpit-inducing “Ares,” and a boisterous rendition of “Flux.”
As the house lights flooded the Vets’ Hall and everyone surveyed their now sweat-soaked outfits, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” wafted through the speakers and the diehards continued dancing, with a few brave couples even trying out that famous lift move from Dirty Dancing. In other words, the truly perfect ending to a perfect night.