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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Interpol Holds a Mass Celebration of Ennui at the Warfield

Posted By on Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 8:49 AM

Interpol at the Warfield last night. - RICHARD HAICK
  • Richard Haick
  • Interpol at the Warfield last night.

School of Seven Bells

January 30, 2011

@ The Warfield

Better than: Your average rock band's light show.

So, how did everyone enjoy their night at the Planetarium with Interpol?

Not that Interpol is a bad band. In fact it's an excellent band -- at least on record.

Great live shows, however, always have a certain ebb and flow to them. Emotional highs and lows, dramatic peaks and quieter valleys. Fast, aggressive songs followed by mellower ones -- a sense that the set list has been put together with the idea of overall balance in mind.

Interpol's show last night at The Warfield had none of that. It did, however, have a fantastic light show, with the band spending most of the gig dramatically backlit in a way that gave more than a few nods to the '80s.

It takes more than cool lighting to make a great show, though. For example, it takes a band that knows how to put on a dynamic performance. And that's where Interpol fell flat.

  • Richard Haick
Again, it's not that the band members didn't play well. They were tight and well-rehearsed, their sound crystalline and immaculate, each song almost identical to its recorded equivalent. It was just that, well, those songs sound awfully similar to each other when you play them back to back. There's nothing wrong with having a signature sound, but when it's hard to tell the bridge of one song apart from the next one, it's time to ask if a band's devotion to its signature sound has gone a bit overboard.

The Planetarium analogy kept coming to mind because, honestly, why even bother going to see a band when their live show sounds exactly like their albums? (Well, that and the cool light show.) Although bass player David Pajo was trying to add a little excitement, he appeared to be the only member of the band who didn't have his feet superglued to the stage floor. Interpol may be a good band, but the guys in it aren't exactly dynamic performers. Last night was kind of like watching a really big, successful Joy Division tribute band, but without any of the genuine pain or anger that made Joy Division so compelling. The overall sense of gloomy, moody angst was there, but without any sense of real trauma underlying it.

  • Richard Haick
And then there was the audience, which spent most of the show looking oddly unresponsive. Granted this is partially a hipster thing -- can't be seen to be too enthusiastic! But still, the feeling from the crowd was oddly flat and lacking in emotional affect. The whole thing felt like a mass celebration of ennui, rather than cathartic in the way that shows by bands that lean dark and angsty can often be. 

Things did liven up a bit towards the end, with a few audience members actually breaking out the dance moves for "NYC" and "Obstacle 1." There was applause throughout, so perhaps the rest of the audience found the whole thing more exciting than your reviewer did. But the view of an almost unmoving pit from the balcony was a bit depressing, and the whole thing felt sort of anti-climatic, as if the audience was waiting for a final crescendo that just never came. 

  • Richard Haick
It's not often that you go to see a band whose albums you genuinely like and come away feeling like there's no point ever going to see them again. I wanted to like Interpol live, but with so many bands competing for your concert-going dollars, it's hard to justify spending them on one that's so lacking in dynamism and stage presence.

The biggest criticism of this group has always been that there's something fundamentally cold about its sound and presence. Unfortunately, when watching Interpol live, that quality was a lot harder to ignore.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: Having seen Joy Division/New Order's Peter Hook live a little over a month ago probably set me up not to be too impressed with Interpol - the original is almost always better than the sequel.

The crowd: All ages, lots and lots of hipsters, more plaid shirts than a lumberjack convention.

Overheard in the crowd: Absolutely nothing. One of the least chatty crowds I have ever seen.

Random notebook dump: "Wait, isn't this the same bridge the last song had? No, it just sounds the same, kind of. Oh look, there it is again!"

Did you know?: Interpol are down to only two out of four original members. 

Opener School of Seven Bells - RICHARD HAICK
  • Richard Haick
  • Opener School of Seven Bells
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Kirsty Evans


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