Interpol – background, live, album

InterpolIn this extensive article you can read:

– background information about Interpol;
– live report (Melkweg, Amsterdam – 23 September 2004);
– a review of the latest Interpol album ‘Antics’.

Interpol: more than a commercial hype
Interpol The release of ?Antics?, Interpol?s second album, involved such a massive marketing campaign that you almost couldn?t have missed the happy event. It makes clear that what was once the best kept nu wave secret from New York City meanwhile has become one of the huge alternative bands of these days ? a status Interpol achieved only in a couple of years through one album and extensive touring. The music press unanimously praises the four young guys to the skies, on MTV the single ?Slow hands? was must see-video and tickets for upcoming sold-out concerts are being traded on Ebay right now. In selected metropolises (London, New York, Berlin etc.) an exclusive Interpol Space has been/will be set up in some mega-record stores to promote the new album. Through all this commotion you should almost think Interpol is a commercial hype and wonder if they actually still deserve any attention from ?the underground?. Yes, I think they do, because their music is brilliant and that is what matters.

Interpol suddenly hit me!
When you?re constantly focused on collecting obscure made-in-the-bedroom music, spending most of your time and money trying to get hold of hard to find ultra-limited releases, it may occur that in the meantime some magnificent band from the ?mainstream alternative genre? (sorry for this terrible description) brings out a legendary album and you?re not quite aware of it. Something like this happened with me and Interpol.
I must admit that I also wasn?t in a particular guitar music mood when I first heard their debut album ?Turn on the bright lights? in September 2002. However, some time later while visiting a friend, he played the track ?NYC? at maximum volume and I had an eureka experience: Interpol suddenly hit me! After all I developed an Interpol-addiction and to this day I just can?t stop listening to the album. Maybe it?s because finally some new band succeeded in integrating everything I like about 80?s guitar wave, making the music sound familiar and nostalgic already. Or maybe it?s because you discover the ?hidden? layers behind the catchy melodies and sharp guitar riffs only after several hearings. Then there is of course the extraordinary voice of Paul Banks and his mysterious lyrics. He can croon almost like Sinatra (the low, warm vocals of ?Leif Erikson?) or just rattle in staccato (the nervous ?PDA?). The man also isn?t afraid of launching out some emotions (the trembling and desperate voice in ?Obstacle 1?).

The ghost of Joy Division
It has been said ad nauseam, but naturally it?s true that the ghost of Joy Division wanders around in the music of Interpol and that Paul Banks surely owes part of his typical dolorous vocal sound to Ian Curtis. You can obviously hear Peter Hook through the prominent bass lines of Carlos D (?Untitled?) and Stephen Morris clearly inspired drummer Sam Fogarino. Nevertheless Daniel Kessler and Paul Banks prove themselves technically far better guitar players than Bernard Sumner, but hey ? no bad words about Joy Division. Other obvious influences that have been mentioned all the time include The Chameleons, The Smiths and even early U2. Well, it could be worse. In my view, these influences have only benefited Interpol?s still very original, fresh and contemporary approach to new wave. Besides, can you think of a bigger compliment than somebody saying your music touches him in a way like Joy Division does?

The image-issue
Interpol Another item in which Interpol has drawn a lot of attention is the ?image?-issue. Many interviewers like to cross-examine the quartet about the deeper psychological motives behind their fashionable suit-tie-outfits. I dare to say that even the seemingly indifferent of dressing band Nirvana ? in spite of or thanks to their untidy appearance and punk attitude ? consciously or unconsciously did use a distinct look, which created some kind of cultus around them. Personally I prefer the stylish and cool image of a group like Interpol above woodcutter blouses and muddy, teared up Levi?s. The music, the (album-) artwork and the image of Interpol form a stylized and aesthetical unity, the elements support each other.

Live at the Melkweg, Amsterdam
On the cold and rainy night of September the 23rd Interpol played at the Melkweg (Milky Way) club in Amsterdam as part of a short ?pre-Antics? promotion round of European capitals. For me it was the perfect opportunity to see the band live for the first time ? still being in the middle of my addiction to ?Turn on?? and as a foretaste of ?Antics?. Due to the large audience the (sold-out) concert was moved from the old hall to a newer section of the Melkweg called ?The Max?, which I had never attended.
I was a bit disappointed by the ambience of the room; it was far too light and the bar reminded me of some Country & Western saloon in Texas. Besides the D.J. was playing exceptionally tasteless music.
Interpol live Luckily the gig started pretty soon. After they had pumped some smoke into the room, the lights went out and Interpol walked on stage in the dark. I was expecting to hear the sweet organ tunes of ?Next exit?, because it?s the ?Antics?-opener, but Interpol kicked off with the heartfelt and stirred up ?Obstacle 1?, just like they did on the Curiosa Festival Tour (with The Cure) last summer. During this song they used glaring white lamps so you could fully see the of course elegantly dressed bandmembers bathing in light. I?m not really used to this amount of light, but I think it suited Interpol very well, because in combination with the sober decoration ? just a black curtain behind the stage ? it created somehow a kind of 1980 feel (whatever that may be).
It was great to see the smooth movements of guitarist Daniel Kessler, going down to his knees now and then, together with the straddling Peter Hook ?let your bass hang low?-poses of Carlos D, who also did some amusing jumping around in the flaming red spotlights, aimed at him from below. The both of them were interacting a lot with drummer Sam Fogarino. I noticed Interpol also invited a fifth band member (Blasco) on tour to do the additional fine and subtle keyboard parts. Paul Banks looked controlled, stoical, giving away a perfect performance.
From the start on there was a wall of sound; hard and clear. The catchy new track ?Evil? was played before some favourites from the debut album passed by: ?Say hello to the angels? and ?Stella was a diver and she was always down?. During the gooseflesh anthem ?NYC? an appropriate sea of light was created when Paul sang ??it?s up to me now, turn on the bright lights??, while the band was getting wrapped up in a dense fog again. A couple of new songs ?Length of love? and ?Narc? (which both have been on the Interpol live set for quite some time) preceded the splendid ?Leif Erikson?.
I was impressed by the way everyone was playing (and singing) the songs so perfectly and loosely, apparently with ease. Next to the fact that these are excellent musicians, this has probably to do with the routine that has developed through continuous touring. Upbeat songs ?Slow hands? and ?PDA? were accompanied by flashing stroboscopes. In the middle of ?PDA? the band took an extra long break, as if they were challenging the audience a bit, and when they picked up the song again Paul slowly gazed across the whole venue, straight into everybody?s eyes. Then, before I could even realize, the gig was over. Interpol returned for one encore: a very aggressive version of ?Roland?.
After this I was left with a sort of unfinished feeling; the concert had been far too short (50 minutes) but certainly intense enough to make a deep impression. However, there was one strange aspect of this evening I have to mention: the attitude of the audience. I rarely experienced such an unmoved crowd as on this particular event, a (non-)reaction which in my opinion was completely unjust. Some people applauded modestly after each song, but this lasted for three seconds at most. Then it turned deadly quiet. On one occasion Paul Banks broke the silence and asked: ?so?do you want us to play another song??? as if he was begging for some reaction.
Apart from a little more enthusiasm I also hoped to witness something like a good old ?pogo? during the uptempo pieces, but again wrong. It seemed as if there had been a sign at the entrance saying: no dancing, no cheering allowed tonight. Or was it just the conceit of a spoilt urban crowd, not minding to respond anymore because they know that they will get what they have paid for anyway? Then why did the band play just one encore? I don?t know, but I do know that Interpol deserved better.

Antics – the album
Interpol - Antics A couple of days after the concert the new record was finally released. ?Antics? is a steady and confident album, from which you can hear that Interpol has matured. Since ?Turn on?? they gradually crystallized a style of their own, leaving a great deal of the earlier mentioned comparisons behind. Through ?Antics? it becomes more clear what Interpol itself stands for. The bright sounding album presents a rich collection of diverse songs, from the strong and pushing ?Slow hands? (which is the hardest track) to the mournful ?A time to be so small?. If there were a connecting theme between the songs it would be romanticism, because the bulk of the lyrics deals with (disappointed) love and also musically the album breathes a very romantic and passionate atmosphere. The track ?Narc? with it?s semi-70?s-discobass even reminds me a bit of the Loveboat.
?Evil? and ?C?mere? serve as catchy poptunes for the change in respect of fine-spun musings ?Take you on a cruise? and ?Public pervert?, two achingly beautiful tracks. The latter starts with a weird minimal, almost tango-like tune that eventually ends up in a dramatic guitar orgy. Another highlight is the exciting ?Not even jail?, in which a big brewing atmosphere is built by sparkling guitars and enchanting keyboards on top of ongoing snare hits. When at the second chorus the vocals go up, you think the song can?t possibly last any longer, but then you are surprised again by an even more majestic instrumental epilogue, slowly fading away into eternity.
The only outsider in my opinion is the opener ?Next exit?, which could deter a listener at the first hearing, especially when he is expecting another dark and moody Interpol album. I have been told that this one actually was the first track Interpol ever wrote and that it was originally intented as an overture for concerts. Well, don?t let this apparently happy on-the-road evergreen put you out, but try to persist; it shouldn?t be hard considering all the magnificent music to follow. I can only say that Interpol again delivered a true beauty.

Bandpicture in colour: Pieter van Hattem 2004
?Street? and ?Live? Pictures: ?Slave to the details?
Pictures are the property of their respected owners

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