Now, past that decade we never named, lots of indie-rock success stories from it effectively have to ‘mount a comeback’. Many boomed and flamed out, or boomed and just boiled away, entering hiatuses that either became break-ups, or were at least long enough that their end marked a ‘return’. They can still play impressive venues like New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall, but is there still life in them, or is it just a reunion tour? While Interpol’s new stuff can’t match their old stuff, even live, their show at Radio City on Thursday, September 17th saw that there was more than enough life left in ‘em.
First things first: the older Interpol songs were better than the newer songs. This wasn’t just true of tracks from 2007 major-label debut/recording nadir Our Love To Admire (QRO review), but also, if to a lesser degree, for last year’s self-titled (QRO review) return to indie imprint Matador. In some ways, the band knew it when they played Radio City, as more than a third of the set list was from breakthrough debut Turn On the Bright Lights, and there were less than half of that of Our Love, and only one more Interpol piece than from sophomore record Antics. But they started the night with Interpol‘s decent-but-not-what-you-came-to-see "Success" – and began their encore with Love‘s weak "The Lighthouse". And the times the show seemed to slow down, it was thanks to newer tracks, such as Interpol‘s "Lights" and "Summer Well" between older pieces "Narc"/"Say Hello To the Angels" and "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down"/"NYC". The two clear best songs from the last two records, singles "Barricade" (Interpol) and "The Heinrich Maneuver" (Love), both stood up well coming after strong old songs – "Heinrich" after "Stella" & "NYC", "Barricade" following "PDA", "Evil", and "Hands Away" early in the set. But then a song from the other newer record would come, wasting that momentum – Love‘s "Rest My Chemistry" after "Barricade", Interpol‘s "Memory Serves" after "Heinrich". "PDA", "Evil", and "Hands Away" came after the opening "Success", and the explosion from the crowd with the old stuff only highlighted what they’d come to Radio City to see.
Of course, Radio City Music Hall does engender a less-than-enthused nature from the audience. Old and oh-so-very-established (QRO venue review), the venue only hosts the odd indie-rock show, though there seem to be more at the place in recent years. The high ticket price may keep out the casual fan, but also the young-and-broke-and-easily-excited fan – and the high drink prices keeps any and all from getting drunk (and really into it…). And there’s that it’s a seated venue – so you’re sitting down up until the headliner starts (and can sit during them, as well), don’t need to arrive early to get a good seat, are farther away than you would be if you were all crammed in there – it generally makes a member of the audience more of a ‘watcher’ than any sort of participant in the event. Oh, and there’s many security ushers there to keep you from sneaking up front by standing in the aisles (though word was someone was still able to pass around coke…).
There are upsides to Radio City as well, especially in sound system and lighting. The lights for "Success" were off-angle and too constant – instead of lighting up the band, the group was still in darkness, while one of the blue lights shone directly at you, inducing a migraine. But after that, lighting was used to great effect, varying enough song-to-song and within songs, and generally working well – during the "She broke away / Broke away" line of "Stella", the lights for the first time pointed up and out towards the smoke machine-created smoke that was drifting from above the band to high above the crowd, highlighting it ‘breaking away.’ And the sound was full, but never crushingly loud, and with enough bass for this bass-heavy band, without being overkill (as it felt a bit during less-schooled-at-such-places opener School of Seven Bells – QRO album review).
Any mention of bass and Interpol immediately brings up the missing man at Radio City – former bassist Carlos D. The signature visual presence in the band, even more so than singer Paul Banks (QRO solo tour review), Carlos D was on Interpol but left before the tour, replaced by new touring bassist David Pajo. While this has put more weight on Banks’ shoulders, it’s also allowed guitarist Daniel Kessler to shine more, the ultra-enthused counterweight to Banks’ shyer artiste. And while Carlos D might not have been in the house, The Beastie Boys’ Mike D was (plus Florence, of the Machine – QRO photos – and Entourage‘s Vincent Chase, but no Johnny D…)…
Was it ‘the greatest show Interpol has ever done’? Probably not, though one member of the band said that they should do a residency at Radio City (think only the Rockettes get to do that…), and Banks did "especially dedicate" "NYC" to everyone there tonight (those, and a few song introductions were about the only things said by the band during the show – though letting you know the name of "Barricade" after they played it was rather funny, considering how at the fore the song’s name is in the chorus; it would have been hard for anyone not to guess it’s name afterwards…). Is Interpol ‘the greatest record Interpol has ever done’? No, but it is a welcome return from a band that you wanted back. And their show at Radio City Music Hall was a welcome return by a great band.