The Rich Girls Are Weeping

06 June 2007

(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 indie rock pantheon.

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

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Blogger douglas martin said...

people don't give interpol enough credit. it could be the fact that they've played the "rockstar" role since day one.

i think the whole "sellout" stigma makes music fans forget that hey, the world actually needs rock stars. although i don't mind when bands dress in their street clothes, sometimes, i enjoy the bands that play the role and pretend that they're not just like us.

if i wanted every person to play in a band to look like a scrawny art-school graduate/dropout, i'd bring a mirror to shows.

Thursday, June 07, 2007 3:42:00 AM  
Blogger paul said...

Really? I think people give Interpol too much credit. Excepting a couple songs on the early eps/first lp, they've always been a paint-by-numbers kind of band from the sound to the look to the whole public vibe they give off. Whether they're on Matador or Capitol makes no difference if they're a one-trick pony (with a fantastically lame trick).

They might have been the catalyst for the whole "post punk" re-emergence, but too many bands have come along since and bested them at their own game in too many different ways for them to have any real claim on my charitable will.

Interplz r lzy!

Thursday, June 07, 2007 1:43:00 PM  
Blogger paul said...

btw, "Indeed, Interpol is the closest thing to high art currently residing in the [indie] rock pantheon?"


Thursday, June 07, 2007 1:45:00 PM  
Blogger douglas martin said...

granted, interpol doesn't stylistically change as much as, say, radiohead, but not very many bands do these days, and only few of them venture out of their core sound to any positive results. i dunno; maybe i'm part of the problem, but i don't listen to interpol for their sonic adventurousness. i listen to interpol primarily because i know what i'm going to get [and my opinion differs from yours in the fact that i think their one trick is pretty damn awesome].

i didn't really agree with when you said that too many bands have come along and bested them at their own game. editors' first album had two good songs on it. their new album sounds like a fusion of interpol and snow patrol. maybe i haven't heard enough bands that have adopted interpol's aesthetic. maybe you're right and i just haven't heard of them yet.

Thursday, June 07, 2007 2:42:00 PM  
Blogger cindy hotpoint said...

Paul, this is because of what I said about Ne-Yo, isn't it? Because I'm really not taking kindly to your tone right now.

Examples would be good. Who's doing it better? And, did you even listen to Antics? I mean really. Come on. It doesn't sound like you did. Prove me wrong, because I'm not buying it. Your argument is the same one flimsy one I've heard a thousand times from people who don't like Interpol. You're not saying anything new here. If you don't like them, you don't like them. That's fine. But don't come picking fights on purpose on my turf just because you can.

Thursday, June 07, 2007 4:09:00 PM  
Blogger paul said...

Oh you know, I'm not even sure how much I can elaborate on this because I've already decided they don't do much for me, and therefore I don't really spend a chunk of time listening to or thinking about them. To play off of something you brought up in the piece, they're just 4 empty suits to me (although, Sam seems like he's probably badass in real life). Musically, though, they're just such a hollow there's this kind of cool sound all around the edges of a deep black hole where the "umph" should be. It's wallpaper music.

I mean, who would argue that Brandon Flowers isn't one of rock's biggest d-bags around right now? Nobody, because he most certainly is. But at least the fact that he's really into the music he's making comes across live and on record. Interpol just seems to be on autopilot. I can't forgive a lack of (or apparent lack of) enthusiasm under any circumstances.

Antics was even less fun for me than their earlier cache of material...a calculated move towards vibrancy. That shit don't fly either. Be it, don't fake it.

I'll email you some examples, because I'll have to go back and think of some. It's a genre that excels more at single songs than it does eps and lps. Although, Douglas brought up Editors, who I happen to like a great deal (well, the first record anyway). I went a full 360 degrees with that record, from loving it to disliking it to hating it back to absolutely unquestionably loving it again. That mostly has to do with the spirit at the core of the music as much as it does the music itself. I saw Editors perform on Conan or some such late night show and they were just really dedicated and completely into what they were doing. I've seen Interpol 2 or 3 different times on late night tv (but never live live) and they were just so robotic every time. Have fun, dudes. You're making music, Interpollers, not crunching numbers and filing reports.

Thursday, June 07, 2007 8:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Matthew said...

I'm a busy man, and so I have neither the time nor the eloquence to shape a convincing argument to the naysayers, but Interpol are, in my opinion, the finest band on the planet. Their sharp combination of rockstar mystery; a classy, dignified presence; and gorgeously textured, driving, and emotionally mesmerising songs make them a truely unique and wonderful band.

Friday, June 08, 2007 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger J Frank Parnell said...

Interpol. They do it well, but their 'it' remains far from original (Comsat Angels, The Sound, early Church, 1st New Order album), and so while I enjoy them sometimes, they're like gum: only a food derivative, but serviceable until some real food comes along. As for high art within the indie rock scene? To me, Shearwater, Deerhoof, and the Boredoms all have a leg up, in that, like high art, there's something in there worth mining as an influence. For a new band, Interpol's style and songwriting would be a dead end. As would Radiohead's.

And The Futureheads write better songs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Jeff K said...

Liars get my high art vote. And their new album is even catchy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007 5:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

douglas martin hit the nail on the head the first eitors ablum had 2 good songs but the editors are more way more into their music, does that really make a difference though??

Yes interpol are empty but they are slightly better then editors, the new cut from interpol is more poppy so we should see some better energy...

who cares about energy... I mean maybe they are just quiet people.. they cant pretend to be something their not...

Thursday, June 14, 2007 6:06:00 AM  
Blogger cindy hotpoint said...

1) Creating music that is intentionally difficult to listen to is not high art. Seriously. Melt Banana makes me slightly nauseated -- maybe they bump my ear bones weirdly or something. Anyway, The Futureheads are okay, but not that special, same for Editors. But their stuff is really ephemeral.

I suppose that this conversation just goes to prove that taste is always relative.

J. Frank -- you totally forgot about the Wolfgang Press!

Sunday, June 17, 2007 2:39:00 AM  
Blogger J Frank Parnell said...

Oh wow -- wolfgang press indeed. Much of 4AD - the first Dead Can Dance album is an Interpol album, weirdly enough, since DCD hadn't yet devolved into a Real World Goth band making soundtrack music for hollywood thrillers.

And hey - I'm with you on 'high art' not having to be difficult music - the aim would be to create music so complex it hits a commonality in people that renders it simple on the ears, like something you always, always should have heard but yet haven't, to that point - Shearwater does this best for me, and Deerhoof at their poppiest. Interpol doesn't do that to me - yet. They had an early song on a comp benefitting an animal shelter, almost ten years ago, that I found interesting, but it seems they shook that for the more commerical stuff .. their debut actually surprised me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous karlo said...

How anyone could criticize interpol of being paint-by-numbers band and then go on to extol the greatness of editors is beyond me. Editors' tunes are way more fm radio and more immediately accessible, which is no bad thing (i listened to the backroom a lot myself before moving on to better things), but dude, if anyone's cookie cutter, it's editors and not interpol. And have you heard an end has a start? I hear a band going the Sam's Town route, and I hear Friday Night Lights soundtrack puff. Editors is a way more obvious band.

And Antics was a "calculated move towards vibrancy?" "Be it, don't fake it?" Talk about riding high horses. There's just no way to back a claim like this, not unless you know the band personally. And the energy and bounciness has always been there from the start- take Say Hello To Angels for example.

Plus, there's nothing wrong with having a look or a performance shtick. Nobody complains about Franz Ferdinand being dapper. It's good that some artists are embracing all aspects of performance, including visual presentation. Ne-yo's got a shtick hasn't he?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007 5:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first of all.. ne-yo can eat sh!t for all i know.

and paul, i dont think you appreciate post-punk as much as others do. interpol have a different version of playing post-punk. and maybe i could say better than franz ferdinand, who's said to be the post-punk revivalist. and please don't bring up deerhoof on this. they're on different type of music. comparing experimental indie rock with post-punk ?! whoa, why dont you compare britney spears with snoop dogg instead ?!!!!

Friday, September 21, 2007 4:51:00 AM  

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