(photo courtesy of i drop bøms)
June 5, 2007.
Bowery Ballroom, Delancey Street, NYC.
The woman to my left was texting Kenna, the kids on right were clandestinely taping the proceedings. I suppose it's to be expected when you basically crash (ok, legitimately, but still) an event that was thick with Capitol Music Group staffers and rabid superfans, as we did last night at Interpol's appearance at Bowery Ballroom.
Every time I see Interpol, I'm reminded of a line from The Commitments -- "All the Motown brothers wore suits -- it's neat, dignified. You play better in your suit." (In that film, of course, the downfall of The Commitments' unity is presaged by the fact that they don't play their best-attended gig in said suits...)
And Interpol is, above all else, a neat and dignified band. And I've always felt, even in the face of Carlos' more outrageous accessories (or any other article of clothing created for him by Craig Robinson), that it wasn't ever pretension or a pose that drove Messrs. Banks, Kessler, Fogarino, and Dengler to take the stage in suits. (Because, naturally, they played better in their suits -- and they knew it.) It was, instead, their signal to us, the audience, that they were playing serious music. Indeed, Interpol is the closest thing to high art currently residing in the
If you're from Austin you probably have a personal apocryphal story about how you totally meant to go to the time they played outside at Emo's on the Bright Lights tour, the night of the big ice storm in 2003. But, like me and Pinkie, you were trapped at the top of a steep driveway (yes, really) or were too skittish to try driving again after a stressful trip home from work, so you didn't make it. I remember sitting in my apartment wondering if it would be foolish to walk the mile or so to town in my thin coat and stupid shoes. I decided it was too cold, even though I was secretly obsessed with Turn on The Bright Lights and was too embarrassed to tell my indie-pop loving friends about it -- that I had a crush on these sharp men from NYC and their driving, embittered and mournful songs.
I didn't have a chance to see them again until the spring of 2005. When they played outside at Stubb's on Election Night 2004, on the first leg of the Antics tour, Pinkie was in attendance (we didn't know each other all that well then); I hate seeing bands in Stubb's outdoor amphitheater, always have. I went to see our pals Cue over at Beerland (it was actually the first time I saw them live) instead and then attended the strangest, most painful Shearwater show on record at the late show inside at Stubb's. I was a little giddy though, over the fact that Carlos and Paul were shooting pool in the room adjacent. I remember stopping to watch them -- all name-calling and long fingers and clinking beer bottles -- and marveling at the sight. There were no men like that in Austin -- not that I knew, anyway. They were rarefied, unreal. Real glittering and hard rock stars, not a thing like my sweet friends in bands I'd seen earlier in the evening, or who were on the stage at that time. And oh, the irony that Shearwater eventually ended up on Matador, Interpol's indie home!
What I didn't know then was how much harder and more glittering that facade would get over the next few years. (For it was, after all, just a facade, but even the wisest can be fooled -- because as we discovered later, yes, really, they were as sweet and unassuming as our friends in Cue and Shearwater.) They seemed always to be on the road, touring first with the Cure, then circling the globe on the strength of Antics and its pumping, danceable singles "Evil" and "Slow Hands" -- with proper videos and everything! They were famous; the suits went from vintage or serviceable, solid brands to better, sharper, bespoke. The hard sparkle was on. By the time I did finally did manage to see Interpol live at the Austin Music Hall in February 2005, they were razor sharp and deadly sexy. Sleek and almost a horrible, terrible force to be reckoned with. Watching them was like watching "porn directed by Leni Riefenstahl," I famously quipped after the encore. Offensive yes, but it was all I could manage to stammer out in response to what I'd just seen. I was shell-shocked by the white-hot light rig; the blistering, textured guitars; the relentless, hypnotic rhythm section; Paul's dour vocals.
That fall, Pinkie and I drove all over east and north Texas to see shows on multiple nights as our favorite bands rolled through our corner of the world, running ourselves ragged -- unhappy women recently extricated from painful relationships, fleeing from the reality of adulthood. We bonded on those long drives, became fast friends, learned each other's favorite songs, cursed the men who'd betrayed us. We drove to Dallas, where we interviewed our friends The Double when they opened for Interpol. We drove to Tulsa to see them too, just because they played, much to our collective delight, at the venerable, old ballroom that was home to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
Lots of things have changed for both of us in the past year and a half, but not our deep admiration for this band. So, when we had the chance to see them play that holy grail of NYC venues -- the beautiful Bowery Ballroom, last night -- we couldn't stay away. How could we? (It was impossible to turn back time all the way -- Brownies is now the Hi-Fi and home to El DJ instead of a grotty stage frequented by up-and-coming baby bands.)
We'd already heard the new record, Our Love to Admire, last week at the Capitol offices (no, it won't leak -- we had to listen on iPod with headphones). We knew things were different. And it wasn't just that Carlos and Sam were almost exclusively wearing suits onstage made by our friend Anthony S. Malat at Sinner/Saint, looking like the spiritual son of Johnny Cash and a Five Points pugilist, respectively. It wasn't the rumors that Paul had been to rehab. It wasn't the fact that Daniel was insisting in interviews that listeners shouldn't look for too much meaning in the songs, despite the fact that there was clearly meaning to be mined. It wasn't that they were playing small, sometimes seated venues to mixed reviews in old theaters and ballrooms across Canada, Europe, and the US in between festival gigs. And it wasn't about the dog, either.
Forget the rumors you've heard -- maybe some were true, maybe some weren't, but that's in the past. Give up complaining about the suits, or that they're a Joy Division ripoff. This is a band that's very sorry if your relationship with them started out on the wrong foot, and would you mind very much starting over from square one? Because they'd like to try again too.
Last night, some things were immediately evident: Gone are the sharp edges, the things that made you want to hold them at arm's length. Think the eeriness of the Marfa lights, the loneliness of long nighttime drives on lost highways. The flashy, bitchy Carlos D. has most definitely been usurped by Carlos Dengler, part-time film composer, who smiles when he plays now. Paul's heart may or may not have been broken -- in any case, his voice is improved and comes from a shadowed depth only previously hinted at. Daniel still skitters around in his version of the Chuck Berry/Elvis Costello box step, ever more convinced that he can turn a guitar into a percussion instrument, perhaps by sheer will alone. And Sam's still calmly driving the boys to town, the band's elder statesman, but by no means too old to understand that a good rock show is good for the soul.
And the utterly deafening roar of the crowd as they wrapped up the first part of the set with the killer, underrated "Not Even Jail," cemented it all. The new songs are still a little weak and may not even play out well in the live setting, and they're clearly sick of playing their 'hit' "Evil" -- but that's no matter. These are men don't just enjoy playing music, they enjoy playing it together, with a common aim. It may not always be entertaining, or easy to watch -- but it is almost always something beautiful to behold.
Interpol -- Specialist
Interpol -- Not Even Jail
Interpol -- Slow Hands (Britt Daniel Remix)
Interpol -- Leif Erickson