Due to their creative influence in the post-punk revival scene, Interpol has grown into an alternative phenomenon with their use of odd time signatures, staccato bass lines and unique vocals. Although they have had a distinct following for over twenty years, their live performance left plenty to be desired.
As a New York-based band, their overall look visually blends the persona of an antisocial, subway catching businessman and an underground mobster. Even their stage dialogue is short and to the point, as front-man Paul Banks only acknowledged the crowd to say a quick “thanks” or to share a song title. Typically, this kind of nonchalant behavior would bore an onlooker, but with the concept of New York City adrift in the air, the cold environment that one might encounter in the big city was reflected in their behavior giving us a small taste of The Big Apple.
While words such as “well-polished” and “talented” describe the band, the word I come back to time and time again when describing Interpol’s live performance is “alienating.” Now, before you get offended let me explain. Interpol is made up of incredible musicians and their music was performed flawlessly. I recall listening to an interview in which the band explained that their name “Interpol” has more to do with the effort of a team as it executes a task as opposed to a more stereotypical interpretation. This sums up their musical impact quite nicely. However, the live performance was a borderline snooze fest.
The eccentricity of the venue (40 Watt Club, Athens, Ga) and the band’s lighting carried most of the visual attention. On several occasions I caught myself closing my eyes while having a closer listen to the complexity of Sam Fogarino’s percussion techniques and odd time signatures as well as enjoying the complexity of the music. This is the point where I had to ask myself, “Couldn’t I do the same thing lying on the floor in my living room with the volume on my stereo turned up? Did I really need to drive three hours to see this?”
Again, their music is everything from post-punk and alternative to introspectively complex, but the live performance does nothing to impact the quality of their sound. I will listen to their albums the same way that I have for years with no new impact.
This brings me back to the concept of alienation. Concerts work a few ways; either the performer hypes the crowd and enjoys the atmosphere of an involved audience, or chooses to make their time on stage into a performance piece i.e. Ghost, or the performance is simply more of an auditory experience as opposed to visual. The cold nature of the band paired with the lack of charismatic performance features created a very divided performer vs. audience atmosphere that built a certain unexpected respect for them as musicians but also left me feeling a bit cheated as I expected so much more. Interpol is a staple for all things alternative. Buy their albums, listen to them on streaming sights, support their creative endeavors, but take their live performance with a grain of salt. It is all a part of their New York City illusion I suppose.
Photos by: Sarah Htun for Bullet Music