Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012
Better than: Seeing Chris Gaines.
Paul Banks is probably the least known of the three musicians a reasonable fan might have expected to hear at Slim's this weekend. The man himself looks familiar on stage, but only the loyalest of fans know him as Paul Banks. Isn't that the lead singer from Interpol? His "first" solo album is only two months old. Wait, no, that's Julian Plenti, right? And Banks' new solo release got quickly swallowed by a wave of "Turn On The Bright Lights turns 10" press.
But on Saturday, Slim's fills with Banks diehards, and the singer responds accordingly; playing the entirety of his newest album (Banks) and sprinkling only a few tunes throughout from alter-ego (more accurately, alter-moniker) Julian Plenti. No one even yells for "Obstacle 1" or "The Heinrich Maneuver" at any point during the night. In fact, the only audible crowd banter would be right in place at a Justin Bieber concert. "You're a beautiful man, Paul." "California loves you, Paul." "I want to take you on a cruise." And Banks reacts to it as a seasoned veteran would: appreciative but minimal responses interspersed between a few songs. Seemingly nothing more than "Thank you, that was '[insert song name here],'" at any point this evening.
His solo work feels different -- enough so that any fan in the audience could pick out which project an individual song came from. Sure, it's all somewhat brooding (this is Paul Banks, after all) but hearing his new solo tracks next to the Julian Plenti material really put the strengths of his recent solo record into perspective. The song structures take more twists and turns, the song content is brighter, and Banks' voice feels triumphant as opposed to defiant (Interpol) or lamenting (Julian Plenti). I never had the pleasure of an Interpol show, but this is clearly its own unique experience.
It isn't all perfect. A song like "Paid for That" feels out of place on the album, but the stylistic difference between it and the rest of Banks' new material is even more stark live. That vengeful, angsty chorus of "now you'll pay me back" might be the only time Banks' voice appears to be straining throughout the entire night (10 years after his debut, his voice remains as distinctive as ever; intense but seemingly effortless). And on his latest single, "The Base," the soaring effect that makes up the base of its soundscape drops out live and is lost to the less expansive song elements.
The night has plenty of high points just the same; enough to easily overshadow any potential nitpicking. On the first song of the encore, "On The Esplanade," Banks takes the audience to an immensely creepy place simply through the inflections in his voice (though the low, red-hued lighting didn't hurt): "I feel overcome / with trying to play it dead / feel safe that way/ is it better than displaying instead?" And earlier in the night, an unexpected easy listening vibe arrives in the middle of the set. The band performs "Arise, Awake" with an almost samba-like feel, and the instrumental "Lisbon" comes soon via a similarly relaxed take.