State Theatre, Detroit City, September 18, 2003
By now, the comparison-making has reached a fever pitch. They’ve been shouted into ears over the din of distortion, dismissed during conversations in stereo chairs, and arranged delicately in sentences more slinky than a Tracy Reese strapless. All the kids in the street are dropping names like Galileo dropped the orange, sucking on cigs through bejeweled holders and decrying the trend towards reverse engineered Robert Smith hairdos. It’s the politics of decadence in every breath, discussing Erik Satie while shopping at Target, and blasting Genesis in an ironic Cutlass Ciera. What was once normal has become normale. Devo’s selling Swifters. And Unknown Pleasures is the new Back in Black. Interpol’s famous, and moving too fast to rest.
It’s no longer fashionable to simply make references. In our time, the very making of the reference has to be fashionable. It’s not possible for Interpol to simply be a group of young guys who found inspiration in the dour tones and deliberate rhythms of early post-punk. The band’s popular image has been chiseled right out of its admittedly blatant, yet entirely admissible references. Unlike your average everyday ho hum hype, Interpol’s “influenced by”s and “sounds like”s have unleashed a crime wave of hype hysteria that replicates faster than the Melissa virus and rocks you like a hurricane. Like Belle & Sebastian, another group that’s come to be defined by its own list of predictable, yet perfectly arranged influences, Interpol’s image has almost outpaced its actual music.
Opposites suddenly attract, and magnets make friends with stainless steel just to see what the fuss is about. Thursday night at the State Theatre, the main floor bar was full of husky Sevendust dudes kicking it with glamour girls in high heeled running shoes. Josh Mostel-looking fellows were flirting with off-duty exotic dancers. Down was up! Sure, there was the contingent of people for whom skinny is an expensive accoutrement and red vinyl belts somehow make sense. In other words, the types you’d expect to see at the live date of a Matador band with an awesome album full of darkly humorous, insular pop songs. But shouldn’t a record like that be, well, a little underground? These creatures of the night had arrived in the fading light of a Midwest autumn day, for an all ages show.
It’s wonderful that a band as talented as Interpol has broken through to the mainstream. But it’s a little strange, isn’t it? For all its influence and critical acclaim, the Jesus & Mary Chain was about as appealing to the general public as a bowl of meat cereal. And if Joy Division had ever booked an all ages show, they’d have been arrested for child endangerment. But here was a group influenced by both of these and others, wowing an almost-sold out State Theatre crowd with a set of jagged, emotionally detached tunes full of mental heartbreak and thin, grim smiles. Sweating through his suit and wreathed in smoke, Paul Banks leaned into his microphone, deadpanning happy-go-lucky phrases like “subway is a porno” into the back row of the bar, where a fleet of parents pounded gins and tonic and waited, grimacing, for their eager stage front children. Simple, yet astoundingly effective drums glanced off herking, jerking bass lines that approached Wire in their scary efficiency. Interpol’s front line would often songs bent as one, eyes squinched shut and sweat dripping from their skinny ties, flailing at guitars and pleading for the world to turn black and white. Tearing his eyes away from the shapely bartender, Klein pointed out the mother of an ex-girlfriend, taking in the heartless grooves with her hundred-mile-an-hour haircut beau. Pants pressed and scoop neck shirt in place, she was not a chaperone – she was here because the bright lights had turned her on. What did she see in the splotchy pinwheels of purple and red that Interpol’s music was making? Had she made a mix tape for her boyfriend featuring “PDA” and “NYC” next to “Your Body is a Wonderland” and “Beautiful Day”?
The question was never asked, because, after a pointed two-song encore, Interpol was over. Sweaty kids wandered toward the exits, chattering a brand new talk that people from good homes are talking this year. It was loud, but not tasteless. It demanded to be heard, but asked no one to listen. It became a fashion statement unto itself, despite unfashionable, sometimes suicidal influences. It was full of tension and fear, but had made everyone in the room happy and gay. Interpol had somehow made moping famous, and Sprockets rock fun again.
That’s some fine fashion.