(Or, How You Too Can Become Cool If You Have The Right Lighting Scheme, Skinny White Boy)
Interpol with Q and Not U at The Rave
Milwaukee, March 13, 2005
The Rave is one of the worst places on earth to see live music. There, I said it. The concertgoer, upon visiting the establishment, will inevitably be subjected to one or more of the following insults:
1. Being packed so tightly on the floor that you are staring at the back of some dude’s head the entire night because you cannot see anything, especially if, like me, you just barely clear five feet.
2. Being moved around repeatedly by security if you are in the balcony because apparently there are only certain select garbage cans and pillars that you can stand by.
3. TWO-DOLLAR PLASTIC CUPS OF WATER.
4. Really, really abjectly bad acoustics and poor sound mixing in general. The last several experiences that my friends and I had there were so bad that we have repeatedly sworn not to ever, ever pay any amount of money to see anything there again.
We often go back on our word.
The show got underway about 45 minutes late, which is also standard for the Rave and at times infuriating. Q and Not U opened with an explosive “Tag Tag,” off their most recent release Power, which was one of the most underrated albums of 2004. They are a small band with a big sound and even bigger political statements, which made for most of the problems that they had with their set. Before introducing “Power,” singer/bassist Chris Richards pulled out an article about the Bush administration featured that day in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Frequently rendered inaudible by the screams from the VIP section of “YOU SUCK,” Richards concluded his speech with “We refuse to be ushered out of the discussion.” They ignored the catcalls and played bravely for nearly an hour, dedicating “Soft Pyramids” to “all the people who don’t know what the fuck is going on in Washington, DC.”
It was unclear why they played for as long as they did. By the end of the set—”When The Lines Go Down” which extended into Richards singing “Born In The USA,” (reinterpreted pointedly at the end as “Born In Washington, DC”) which then extended into ten minutes of angry feedback from singer/guitarist Harris Klahr and Richards literally kicking chords out of his bass, either out of anger or a sense of the theatrical—the booing was competing ferociously with the applause and cheers.
We had no idea so many Republicans liked Interpol.
After another half hour break, the lights dimmed and a roar of adulation swelled up from the crowd. Interpol took the stage dressed in suits and accompanied by a light show that rendered them little more than shadowy, anonymous figures on a stage. The lighting was consistently tight with the music, aiming at the audience and bathing them in blue here, abruptly switching to strobe lights timed with a guitar solo here, beaming purple and red back and forth there. When the light show is the most interesting thing about the set, there is something very, very wrong going on here.
They blew through a set that lasted exactly twelve songs, starting with “Next Exit” and including nearly note-for-note album replicas of mostly songs off Antics. Singer Paul Banks stood stock-still center stage for nearly the entire set, his booming baritone the anchor, while guitarist Daniel Kessler and bassist Carlos D bounced off each other and Banks like anxious molecules, (or in Carlos’ case, “little fairy whore boys.”) Yet even while moving, Interpol seemed…bored. They barely addressed the audience except to say “Thank you” a couple of times, while the audience in turn screamed at them and waved their hands, desperate for touch and acknowledgement. The many screamed requests for “Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down” were completely ignored. The only marked differences between the live set and what would happen if we had gone home and played the album very, very loudly came late in the set. There was a tricky, new drumbeat and lots of mod-ish foot stomping added to “Take You On A Cruise,” and a much-extended pause in the middle of “PDA,” during which Carlos posed with his back to the audience, directly in front of the drummer.
We eventually got so bored during the set that we alternately pondered why so many girls had shown up to the show wearing stiletto heels and attempted to dissect Banks’ lyrics. Lyricism has never exactly been a strong suit with Interpol, and that’s okay. But really, what the hell does “Combat / Salacious / Removal” even mean? Why do they rely on “Baby” so much in their songwriting? How exactly is “history like fire from a busted gun?”
At the same time some of Interpol’s songs benefit merely from volume and are exciting enough to hear in a concert setting even if there was no deviation or improvisation. I’m thinking here of “Not Even Jail,” a song that swoons and swells so gorgeously that it rivals early U2. “Evil” had the entire audience bellowing “HEAVEN RESTORES YOU IN LIFE” [what?] and sounded particularly tight.
In addition to the set length that was remarkably similar to the common length of an album, they played exactly two songs for the encore (“Specialist” and “Roland”), completing the feeling that we, the audience, had been cheated out of something. They were musically very, very good, but the set lacked something that I want to say is passion. I still can’t quite put my finger on the correct word. Interpol is an exceptionally stylish band. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to claim that they are all style, no substance. They clearly have some kind of passion for something (suits, perhaps?) otherwise they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. Right? Their complete lack of stage presence muddles this question further. After the songs were over Banks said something inaudible into the mic that left people around us asking one another excitedly, “What did he say?” desperate for some sort of acknowledgement from their hero. He didn’t give them any.
Photo courtesy of Bang Bang Photo.