Interpol: We Refuse to be Ushered Out of the Discussion

An exceptionally stylish band...(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.

37 thoughts on “Interpol: We Refuse to be Ushered Out of the Discussion”

  1. I saw them in Niagara Falls (US) two weeks ago and could’ve written the exact same review. I couldn’t express exactly why the concert left an awful aftertaste, I just know I was completely bored by the end. This coming from someone who used to airdrum in my apt. to the first half of TOTBL…um, ok, I’ll stop typing right there…

  2. spot on review. no kidding, i actually left the show talking about the (nice) lights and (terrible) venue.

    although i had barely heard power before the show, q and not u’s set was awesome and left me feeling like this was their show.

    i swear i’ll never go to the rave again….

  3. Ok, I’ll paste a target on myself and ask – is Interpol really all that? I’ve tried like hell to get into them and it just ain’t happening for me. Are they really that good, or do I just not get them?

  4. No, they’re not all that. It sounds mostly lazy and unispired. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly rock or emotive about it. They just stand in circles and play repetitive guitar lines over vague lyrics and call themselves cool. I had TOTBL for a month, listened to it 3 times and traded it for two beers at a bar in DC. Oh, and their bass player completely freaks me out.

  5. I was against Interpol after Turn on The Bright Lights. Typical hype backlash kinda stuff. But Antics converted me. It sounds a lot more alive then any of their other stuff. I think it’s quite a beautiful album. Dissapointed to hear so many negative reactions from their live show.

  6. I saw the New York show at Radio City Music Hall. Quite possibly the most acoustically perfect auditorium on earth.

    Though the tickets said 8:00pm, a source that claimed to be ‘in the know’ assured us that Interpol was not to go onstage until precisely 9:30pm (Blonde Redhead opened). So, my wife and I planned to arrive at 9:20 (Radio City is all assigned seating… with white-gloved ushers, no less). I didn’t get out of the office until about 8:00pm anyway, so the opening act was not an option. I got home, with no hurry we relaxed with a bottle of wine to unwind, confident that we could depart at 9:15, a five minute cab ride to the show, and walk in just in time. Our source was ill-informed. We came in during the third song (don’t recall what). It was still worth the ticket price.

    They are very competent musicians and the venue showed them off well. The light show was nice, but not overpowering— well synchronized to the music, without being too gimmicky.

    It’s true too, at the New York show Paul rarely ventured away from his anchored position in the center of the stage. He rarely spoke. Daniel was right up at the edge of the stage (stage right), enthusiastic enough to pull a few cock-rock guitar postures. He showed genuine enthusiasm… But nothing compared to Carlos (stage left), the most fashion conscious member of the band, in three piece suite, eventually tossing the tailored jacket revealing french-cuffs and cufflinks. Yes I was close enough to see this (15th row orchestra, house right). I’m also know to wear french-cuffs and a collector of cufflinks, so how could I not notice… but I digress. We were speaking of stage antics, yes. Carlos was positively frenetic— at once pogo-ing, bounding about, twirling around, and often doing this lurching ‘bend at the hips’ move that made him look like someone had suddenly snipped his puppet strings… then contorting about mechanically ‘doing the robot.’ Without venturing into Tommy Lee or Alex VanHallen stage antics, it’s difficult to be “theatrical” behind a drum kit. Sam is a machine. He kicks out the most perfectly timed beats solidly and reliably. You cannot ask anything more from a drummer. For sheer solid musicianship, this band is tough to criticize. They are professionals. Dead on.

    Sarah Horne wrote:

    > …attempted to dissect Banks’ lyrics.

    I’ve always thought, musically, that they borrowed quite heavily from Joy Division (some would say too heavily). I once read a post where a die-hard fan retorted this comparison with, ‘Interpol sounds just like Joy Division, if Joy Division knew how to play instruments.’ The proper rebuke would have been, ‘Interpol sounds just like Joy Division, if Interpol knew how to write lyrics.’ Strange to me that the comparison offended. Saying they sound strikingly like one of the greatest bands that ever lived is something I would generally consider a compliment… though if they weren’t such competent musicians, I might call them a bit derivative.

  7. [url=http://www.lastplanetojakarta.com/archives/2004/09/101_things_to_w.php]101 THINGS TO WHICH YOU CAN COMPARE INTERPOL BESIDES JOY DIVISION[/url]

  8. As much as I like listening to Interpol, I have to admit to having the same reaction when I saw them at the Curiosa Festival in Detroit. They were playing songs from Antics(this was before the albums release) and they did seem bored with them. In fact, they seemed pretty bored with playing altogether. This may be a case of a band getting what they wanted, big recognition, and realising that it’s not all fun and games. It can be dull playin the same songs over and over again. It becoem like a job, I admit this. But if you’re going to go on stage it’s up to you to make omething out of it. But remember, people used to say similar things about New Order when they first started, so anything can happen.

  9. Nice review.

    I saw them a couple times (but not this one)and felt about the same way. I never heard, were they in the Rave Ballroom Echo Deluxe or the regular old Rave Echo Central?

    #5 Who you pay for parking at the Rave.

    (a) the hood “give me $20 and I’ll watch your car”

    (b) the parking lot attendant “give me $17, I’m not watching your car”

    (c) the police dept “give me $15 cuz I just ticketed your car”

    See you in the over-capacity lines.

    BSS

  10. blackshoestring: It was in Echo Central. And I’ve never been subjected to parking indignities because I am one of the Cool Kids who takes the bus everywhere and overhears things after Rave shows from 19 year old Marquette students like “It’s so great to have an unlimited amount of money” whilst unlocking their SUVs.

    Jake: I love you.

  11. Your review is bullshit! Interpol is the best band of this generation, you’re just too stupid to understand the lyrics which have a meaning. Bank’s lyrics and beyond your experience Sarah, stick with the Backstreet Boys with lyrics you can understand and leave Interpol to the big boys.

  12. Wait, never mind that last post. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I have this thing where I try to make myself feel bigger than other people. Interpol suck. I don’t know why I even like them. I’ll probably grow out of liking them.

  13. Sure, they’re Joy Division, if Joy Division had no heart. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Interpol, but only on a sonic level. They don’t hold a candle to Joy Division when it comes to depth and sub text.

  14. I, like nearly everyone else posting here, think that interpol’s pretty much crap. Joy Division ripoffs, blah, blah blah. That’s been established. Why then is this band so popular? Is it just a feedback loop of critics giving fans what they want, and readers feeding into media hype? I’m constantly baffled by the “we don’t sound like joy division” thing, which, really, is like saying Rancid doesn’t sound like the Clash or Franz Ferdinand doesn’t sound like Television or Orange Juice. Can ANYONE explain the popularity of this band?

  15. dake, I have theories.

    1. Really, really good publicity tools.

    2. Attractive band members. OH WAIT.

    3. Sometimes when a band that has a couple of songs that are really good and which hit home with the kids, as it were (and despite the complete whole and lack of a stage presence I maintain, like Tom, that Antics is a really decent album, if a tiny bit derivative, though NOT! deserving of the current hype machine Spin magazine treatment, the kids, as it were, reapond to that.

    4. Right place, right time, right New York scene, etc.

    5. Insert your theory here.

  16. Interpol defense team checking in: I saw them just after the release of TOTBL, and they were really good. Good set, good stage performance, and nice guys all around. Its too bad they obviously haven’t kept that up, last time I saw them at Curiosa I was a little disappointed too.

    As for the hype, they’re no more derivative than The Killers, The Strokes, or even, yes, The Arcade Fire. But the brain needs junk food sometimes, and I’m sure as hell not going to satisfy it listening to Ashlee Simpson. The “sonic level” defense is right on as far as I’m concerned. At least they try to be a little original. The Killers can’t even pull that off.

  17. Okay, I saw Interpol in Minneapolis at a good venue, but I am old and crabby and decided to watch them from behind glass in the VIP room (nothing very VIP about it….).

    The set was fine, whatever, but the really really great part happened when Carlos came to the VIP room a few hours after the set to take over DJ duties.

    Carlos started us in Berlin in the 80’s Joy Division stuff … down a rabbit hole through the UK all the way to his New Jersey teen years with Motorhead…. and even Motley Crue.

    This was a great “show” experience without the live band part. Lots of (mostly funny) drunk people, lots of women making eyes at Carlos (guilty), lots of people “accidentily” touching my ass and randomly making out with each other. Lots of dancing and fun and crazy.

    I wonder if Carlos will DJ that party I’m having in May….

  18. Oh! and I forgot to mention there were a lot of 40-something single women in their mom jeans there to “dance.” Good times.

    Hey, anyone was welcome.

  19. I think a lot of their popularity comes from the fact that they are not being overexposed. They dno’t get a “lot” of radio or video play, and in reality, all the penned critical reviews don’t really register with the public. They are still on an indie label, which gives them a certain amount of cred. They don’t go around acting like moronic, brainless “rockstars”, and they display a certain level of control and intellegence in their music, which gives them some leniance with the brainy college age crowd. Then you take into account the fact that they are interesting to listen to and you have a major labels worst nightmare; a band that actually functions on it’s own merits, has talent, and deosn’t need to be played on MTV a garbonz-illion-bean times a day to get people to listen to them. I think we so called “independant” music lovers find something in that. Until they sign a major label deal, they will be our “little secret” that we can hold over the other sides head and say, “you just don’t get it”. It’s arrogant, and we’ll probably end up the worse for it in the end, but in what has long been a losing battle, we’ll take a smal victory over no victory.

  20. Some good points made (especially about annoying Republicans and equally annoying stilletos.) But I have to take a music-related review lightly when the writer can’t grapple the complexities of metaphor and analogy.

    Case in point:

    >> “HEAVEN RESTORES YOU IN LIFE” [what?]

    Interpretation (mine, at least):

    Refers to how some people (many, actually) gain their meaning and essence from religion. A thought of the afterlife, ironically, is what makes them happy in the here and now. Alternatively, it could refer to a rebirth of sorts.

    Note to writer:

    Just because you don’t understand something, don’t assume its rubbish. There are likely others that do understand.

    It sounds like the main problem with the concert is that it was a midwestern crowd.

  21. I think you are giving them too much credit, like somebody finding a lot of design and meaning in a Pollock drip-painting. (Which may be interesting but has no real psychological insight). Where is the complexity of metaphor and analogy in “subway is a porno” or “stories are boring and STUFF/she’s always calling my bluff” etc etc etc.

    Granted I did like the sound of the first album, derivitive though it may be. But the lyrics are , and continue to be awful. Even if there is intent at insight, there is a problem when it’s communicated so clumbsily that nobody can understand it Sometimes the artist is to be blamed for the delivery of the message, especially when it’s this bad.

    And I’ll call bullshit on the “midwestern crowd” statement. As a former resident of Milwaukee (as well as Seattle ,Minneapolis,Cincinnati) I can say that there are plenty of intellectuals there, with an excellent art museum and independant theatres. MIlwaukee is also within an hour and a half of those provincial little towns of Madison and Chicago, maybe some hayseed inbreeders from there who can’t grasp complexity of metaphor and analogy. Or maybe the emporer has no clothes.

  22. Interpol shminterpol. They define the word “poserism”…it’s a brand new word. They’re more worried about their photo shoots and cigarette silhouettes rather than the music or the performance. I’m not trying to bash, it’s just that I think they were done after they fired Eric. He was the most original thing about them even though he was never officially a member.

  23. MIDWEST WHAT?

    I still think that, at best, the “heaven…” lyric I referenced is lazy. And I don’t think there was any difference between the crowd I was in and any crowd you’d find anywhere else in the country, and yeah, I kind of resent the implication that we are yokels who wouldn’t know a casual reference to religion if it bit us in the back pew. Because I can, I am going to quote my *cough* favorite Interpol lyric ever, but before that let me restate that I LIKE THEM. OKAY? With reservations.

    “This is a concept

    This is a bracelet

    This isn’t no intervention

    This isn’t you yet

    What you thought was such a conquest

    Your hair is so pretty and red

    Baby, baby, you’re really the best”

    I defy anyone to interpret that.

  24. Ok you know what, we admit that these guys are not great but we like them anyway. You know why? Cause fuck it, that’s why. Hearing PDA for the first time was the first time in a long time that I can remember being excited about music again. If not for Interpol I would not have started researching Joy Division, or THe Cure, or Echo and the Bunnymen, or The Chameleaons UK, or the Psychedelic Furs, oy…. well you get the idea. Maybe it’s not that Interpol themselves are so great, but they remind us of a time when music like this WAS great. And for those of us who weren’t there the first time around, it’s a chance to feel like we’re part of something specal. Even if it’s bullshit, at least it’s OUR bullshit.

  25. I think they’re terribly boring, so I’m not surprised by this set. I can’t get into that kind of music at all. It’s way too monotonous (I don’t even know if that’s spelled right).

  26. To all the people with the negative comments you guys seriously don’t have a life for you too be wasting your time on writing negative comments about Interpol its just sad and pathetic.

  27. I saw Interpol a few weekends ago. They were wonderful, but I do agree with you on the major attitude happening on stage. Paul seemed so bored with what he is doing…maybe that is just a stage personna, I don’t know. I just know that the kids there spent time and money to see them and he was not the least bit gracious other than in inaudible “thanks” at the end of the encore. Sam did come back on stage after all the band members left (without even as much as a bow) with a bunch of drumsticks. He handed them out to people in the audience and, very sincerely, thanked the crowd. That made it all worthwhile though. I am glad to know that he is a nice guy and one hell of a drummer.

  28. agree with seamus. they’re good live in nyc. and the crowd definitely isn’t a bunch of stilleto wearing repubs here.

    interpol is a good band, whether it’s 1985 or 2005. and people are a part of something–it’s a genuine scene happening.

    it’s okay to think a band is good. at least it’s not that wank acoustic post-radiohead dribble.

  29. Don’t mess with the INTERnational POLice, because they’ll like put you in jail and stuff if you say you don’t like their band. I’m currently serving 35 years. Also I disregarded all of their warnings at the beginning of movie rentals. But seriously, I like the song “NYC” a lot.

  30. I’ve read this whole string with interest as I’ve recently ‘discovered’ Interpol (later than everybody else, as usual). I gave Antics a try in a listening booth and was turned off the first time. Now I feel slightly ashamed. Also, (and somewhat ironically, given the comments previously posted) they’re one of the first bands whose recordings have made me reconsider my luke-warm response at the thought of going to see a band live.

    Thinking about the comparisons with Joy Division, I think I must be missing something here. I went away and listened to remind and reassure myself (I was around at the time they were, and wasn’t interested then). I listened again. What’s the big deal? They’re repetitive and Curtis’ voice is laughably affected. Why do people rant about music being derivative? All of the arts, high and low, have been referential – that’s one of the ways that they evolve. Its not necessarily about copying, its about constantly refining and improving and the references and echoes can become more subtle and clever with each cycle. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but with Interpol, maybe they’re allowed to look good, posture and appear diffident because they know they’re among the ones that have got it right.

  31. Well this is a little disappointing. Interpol are certainly the best band to come out of America for a very long time. I for one absolutely adore them. Their lyrics are actually pretty understandable – plenty of typical imagery, and even where they are obscure, the tone of the music and the delivery points you towards the right mood. As for Joy Division, they’re about as much like Joy Division as plenty of other bands, they’re not particularly like them at all. Banks has a very emotive delivery – nothing less. And who cares if he doesn’t jump around the stage? Interpol are about the excellent music – they’re not some crappy substandard pop group – if you watch bands for their stage presence then I’m not surprised you are so critical of Interpol – they’re much more than that.

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