Interpol, with Liars
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The Uptown Theater
Better than: Shopping for dress pants at Maj-R-Thrift.
Words by Jason Harper / Photos by Scott Spychalski
It's kind of hard to type right now because my right hand feels half-asleep. There's a tingling running through the end of my middle finger. Don't worry -- I'll blog until they nail shut my coffin. I'll find a way. I will not leave you in the dark. But as for this strange onset of numbness, I blame Interpol.
This was my first Interpol show, and despite people telling me the band is boring live, I was excited. The band's debut, Turn On the Bright Lights, I bought on a lark in my precritic day -- when I was young and easily distracted and the world was either full of or devoid of possibility -- and it became one of the first albums that I ever listened to attentively from start to finish. I make no apologies for that. The droning and sawing guitars; the sparse, locked-in drums and bass lines; Paul Banks' nasal, Ian Curtis baritone singing of the sex & death; and, of course, the suits that evoked corporate wage slaves from a Philip K. Dick novel ... all rather compelling to my imagination at the time. Of course, now I know about Echo & the Bunnymen and the Chameleons -- early-'80s British bands to which Interpol owes, well, everything -- bands that set the male id to dark, austere postpunk in a far more soulful way than Interpol has managed to. (In fact, I highly recommend the Bunnymen's latest, Siberia, which came out in '05. Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant still absolutely shimmer with personality and chemistry after decades together. Interpol should get with the Siberia program, and songs like "Stormy Weather", in considering its future. Shit, that video alone holds plenty of clues: As Ian demonstrates, one can wear black clothes and shades all the time but still go to the park and swing in a swing and kick a soccer ball and still write killer, sad rock songs.)
Anyheezy, since Bright Lights, it's been a downward slope for Interpol, with a sinking good-songs-to-throwaways ratio on the successive albums, Antics(5:5) and this year's Our Love to Admire(3:11). Last night's show at the Uptown demonstrated what's wrong with these cats.
The opening band, Liars, whose four members are stationed around the solar system (Berlin, L.A., Saturn's moon Europa), was a hot, percussive, psychedelic assault of not-giving-a-fuckness: clearly a product of coffee, drugs and the last 20 years of underground rock. Looking like a Frankensteinian melding of Thurston Moore, John Cleese, David Byrne and Earthworm Jim, Australian-born lead singer Angus Andrew sidled, tall and rail-thin, onto the stage in a wonderful white ice-cream suit and began crooning, spooky-like, into the mic while the Liars' two guitarists and drummer made horny alien noise on their instruments.
The set that followed was a tribute to Talking Heads, Spacemen 3, the Fall, Gang of Four and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or, if you're not into that kinda stuff, just think: Radiohead meets Stomp. More often than not, the stage-left guitarist bashed away on tom-toms alongside the ever-busy permanent drummer while Angus raised squawk-hell on the mic, and scorching swells came from assorted guitars, amps and backing tracks. Before introducing one song, Angus said something like "I think Cody Critcheloe is here tonight. We traveled down on the Old Miss, and he taught us a new word. It goes..." and then he proceeded to shriek like a man having his kidneys removed by a demon. I ran into local boy Cody after the set in the Uptown's aptly named Nowhere Bar, and he said he'd befriended Angus in New York and had done a video for Liars. And lo, here 'tis. It's from back when the band was more dancey and Angus was dating Karen O., which led to the Ssion-YYYs connection:
Nicely done, Cody. I like the big gay God and the "peace, dude" couple and all of it.
Not everyone liked Liars, though. In fact, I think few people did. Some jackass yelled "That song sucked!" in the middle of the set. I turned around and saw a trio of clean-cut, 30-something philistines yukking it up. After the show, these same three guys were walking into the bathroom as I was exiting it, and one of them chortled, in reference to Angus, "He's not going to be singing opera anytime soon." Wow, what a zinger! Did they hand you a jester hat along with your diploma when you graduated from National American University? (For more on this guy, see Critics' Notebook at end of review.)
The best thing about Liars was that the band provided us with the closest thing we'd experience to real rock and roll all night (that is, until local band Lights & Siren played the after-show in the smoking lounge, but more on that later) and that came in the form of second-to-last song, the punky and dissonant "Plaster Casts of Everything."
The crowd tripled in size and douchebaggery in anticipation of Interpol, so I set up a roost in the balcony, which was also quite full but less full of wasted scumbags. My colleague Crystal stayed on the floor, where she (1) inhaled lots of secondhand ganja smoke, (2) observed one pothead pulling bits of food out of his teeth and throwing it into the crowd, and (3) was forced to imply to some wasted man that she would fucking mace him if he wouldn't leave her and her friend alone.
Interpol bassist Carlos D., whose skills I admire, was dressed like a priest -- long coat, collar and all -- which just made him come off like a fucking joke.
The other guys were in their usual gothic-sales-representative attire. They simmered into the brooding new-album-opener, "Pioneer to the Falls." Then the bastards played my two favorite songs they've ever done, "Obstacle 1" and "C'Mere." I could have left after that, and I perhaps should have, because the sheer ANGULARITY of the "suitcore" indie rock that followed is what's causing my limbs pain today. Here's a transcription of the Interpol method of angularity:
DER DER DER DER higher) DER DER DER DER (lower) DER DER DER DER
And some visuals:
Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to wear suits and be angular. Unless, that is, they actually do work for the IRS. Interpol just wants to look like IRS agents onstage. Well, except for Carlos D., who wants to look like a 15-year-old in his first goth covers band. And Daniel Kessler, lead(?) guitarist, gets a little credit for hopping about like early-career Elvis Costello with a tranquilizer dart in the leg. Other than that, not much charisma from the 'Pol -- and it wasn't because they barely spoke to the crowd. That's no biggie; I tend not to measure quality of a performance based on stage banter. What's the point of live music if the connection between performer and audience doesn't happen during the actual playing of the music? I do not need a rock star to tell me and my city/state hello. I need him to rock the Spirit into me. Interpol, thou failest. But, strangely, today, I didn't mind listening to a song or two while writing this. (Maybe that's why the numbness continues.)
Lights & Siren, on the other hand -- LIGHTS & SIREN! I had no idea the revamped Anvil Chorus had gotten so good. Where Anvil Chorus was almost trip-hop in its plodding darkness, L&S is noisy, fast, loud and savage. They played only half a dozen or so songs, starting up in the Nowhere Bar a little too soon after Interpol quit; the crowd in the foyer was thick and stupid, but once inside the notorious smoking lounge, the drinks were 2-for-1, and the rock action was real. What a concept!
Personal Bias: I can't afford a nice suit.
Random Detail: I finally met Uptown owner Larry Sells. He gave me and my guest a free drink. Thanks, Larry!
By the Way: Says photographer Scott Spychalski: Not the best...but better than nothing...they didn't use the good light packages until midway through. I thought it was a good concert, It's the fourth time I've seen them. They are kind of machine like...it's the same show every time. Did you see that douchebag throw the Coke at them on the last song of the regular set? It landed on Paul Banks guitar pedals and on his feet. The look in his eyes was like...wtf? The guy that yelled "you suck!" to the Liars I found out while I was waiting to take pics was yelling racial slurs at people next to him. Security were alerted, I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't the same guy that through the Coke, it was from the same area. I hate assholes....oh and Sam threw his drumsticks at me and I caught one lefty and couldn't hold on so it dropped in front of the barrier and the security guy wouldn't hand it to me...said it wasn't his job. Yet another A-hole.