Kele Okereke Played A Very Special Solo Show at The Basement

On my way to The Basement last Friday evening, I knew ahead of time that it was going to be a bittersweet night. With the recent news that the iconic live music venue would be closing at the end of the week, this was most likely going to be one of the last times I would ever see a live show there again. There are so many things to be said about the current nightlife scene in Sydney, but I’ll try and leave my thoughts on that out of this particular review.

Lead singer of Bloc Party, Kele Okereke announced a solo run of shows across Australia earlier this year in support of his new album, “Fatherland” and it was a show I was very keen to see. I should probably point out at this stage that we also have an interview with Okereke in the works but we’re just waiting for things to be finalised surrounding that.

Having listened to Bloc Party quite a bit during my formative years at Uni, I was a fan of Okereke from the get-go. When the band took a break and he decided to venture off into some solo projects, I admit I didn’t follow too closely but I had listened to a few of his creations here and there. It was only when “Fatherland” came out, that I knew it was going to be different. Special, even. I mean, I already knew just based on the title alone, what the record would be solely about and those kinds of subject matters always provides a deeper meaning to the music and the songwriting experience.

The record was an obvious departure from the electronic-based music I initially grew to love him for, with the new sound offering a vulnerability aspect in his writing and vocals.

With“Fatherland”, Okereke strips it all back; wearing his heart on his sleeve so to speak, and collaborations with Corrine Bailey Rae and Olly Alexander simply reinforce the sorrow and sweet behind the messages on the record.  It clearly was a personal album and I had read that some of the songs he had written for it, weren’t ever meant to be heard publicly – they were solely made for his daughter. Aw, bless!

Right on 9.45pm, Kele Okereke walked on stage in an all-white outfit to a single mic stand and his acoustic guitar leaning against the stand behind him. Opening with ‘Streets Been Talkin’,’ Okereke wasted no time delving into a set of ‘songs I’ve written and songs I wished I’d written’.

He took us all by surprise when he shared an anecdote of a song that he had written in Sydney the last time he was in town, titled ‘Southern Cross’.  Seeing that it was left off of “Fatherland”, it’s very likely that the song won’t be performed live during his upcoming tours but for obvious reasons, he felt it was fitting that it was included in the set that Friday evening.

In such a cozy setting, Okereke‘s set was intimate and engaging – and rather warm from the bright spotlights above us – showcasing his incredible vocal range as he performed songs from his latest record, including ‘Versions of Us’ (where he obviously sang both his and Corinne Bailey Rae‘s verses), ‘Road to Ibaden,’ ‘Yemaya,’ and ending the first part of his set with a beautiful acoustic rendition of Bloc Party favourite ‘This Modern Love.’ 

His solo performance was a chance for us to really listen to the lyrics, as he sang songs about lost love, complimented with precise, clear enunciation adding to the intensity of the tracks. The Sydney crowd was almost silent throughout the whole performance, giving Okereke our undivided attention under the bright spotlight.

The set included some quick banter here and there, marked by Okereke’s bright smile and charming shyness behind the mic when he’s not performing, making witty references and remarks towards Steve Smith and the Australian cricket team’s recent ball-tampering scandal. 😛

After a quick walk off stage, he returned for a short encore, including his twist on The Temptations‘My Girl’, which is due for an official release later this month after being asked to cover it for a project, and a stripped-back rendition of Bloc Party‘s ‘Sunday.’

It was a very short set with the entire performance lasting just under an hour which was a little disappointing and in some ways, felt very much like a tease, as it left this reviewer wanting more; much more.

Kele Okereke
30 March 2018
The Basement

Written by Chau Tran 
Photography by Ishan Sharma