I was at Bloc Party's last gig before the hiatus, in Bournemouth on Halloween of 2009. At the time it felt like it was going to be the end for the band, and before closing the set with their first single 'She's Hearing Voices', Kele Okereke exclaimed: "maybe the best way to end is to go back to the start." It all sounded pretty ominous for their future.
The fact that tonight is happening, then, is an extremely pleasant surprise. Talk of recording sessions without the frontman, and then said frontman claiming the comeback record might be the band's last have somehow been replaced with a progressive and brilliant new record Four, and it's those songs which shine tonight.
After a jingly, jangly and largely uninteresting Theme Park set performed to a largely uninterested crowd, an opening trio of 'So He Begins To Lie', 'Mercury' and 'Hunting For Witches' thrust them into a set performed impeccably, and newies 'Octopus' and 'Kettling' are greeted with as much enthusiasm and excitement as 'Flux' and 'Helicopter'. It's a testament to what Bloc Party have managed with Four.
A largely muted response to third record Intimacy teamed with a three-year break makes the feat all the more remarkable, and as has been shown by the reunions of At The Drive-In and Refused this summer, bands taking breaks sees their popularity, and demand for comeback gigs somewhat inexplicably soar. The Southampton Guildhall seems to be confining and restricting Bloc Party tonight, then, and the twenty-odd songs tonight are thrown out almost in second gear, like they're a band that know they're capable of more.
An Earls Court date has already been announced for 2013, so although this Academy tour they're currently on is excitingly intimate for the fans, it feels like the band are just waiting for the bigger venues and festival headline slots to arrive. The conviction with which their 90-minute set tonight was rolled out tonight suggests that such rooms are waiting for them with arms outstretched.