Watching Meet Me In The Bathroom, the documentary about the early 2000s New York music scene, I couldn’t help coming away feeling a little sad for Interpol. There was something in frontman Paul Banks’s contributions to the film that suggested a frustration at being caught in the slipstream of The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And yet here they are, twenty years later, scene survivors having just released ‘The Other Side Of Make-Believe’, easily one of their strongest albums to date.
Interpol remain one of the most stylish, precise and disciplined of bands, something that was refreshing when compared to their wilder contemporaries. Their sound remains sharply honed and devoid of the archetypal displays of rock histrionics; angular, emotional, uncomfortable, emotionally raw but also sensitive. For the most part the band – Banks, elastic-legged guitarist Daniel Kessler, drummer Sam Fogarino and touring members Brandon Curtis (keyboards) and Brad Truax (bass) – were draped in intense and impenetrable shadow. It was the perfect presentation for a band whose music undoubtedly contains uplifting joy but which is uniformly shrouded, requiring the listener to work hard to find anything positive.
Songs from the new album like ‘Toni’, ‘Fables’ and ‘Passenger’ were presented with a crisp and robust punch that offered a new insistency, umbilically linking back to their earlier work. On ‘Fables’, Kessler’s guitar rang out like a desperate, clarion bell, while Banks offered up a world-weary, plaintive call for emotional stability. These songs are slower, more expansive perhaps, but any sense of this being a band content to slow down was squarely rejected through the execution of their older material.
Fan favourites ‘Roland’ and ‘PDA’ from ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’, the band’s 2002 debut album, were delivered with a violent malevolence. The jarring, controlled guitar dissonance of ‘Obstacle 1’ from the same album was sped up to an almost punk nihilism, without ever relinquishing complete order and control. ‘C’mere’ from their second album, ‘Antics’, is among the band’s overtly uplifting moments, here delivered with a rapturous euphoria despite being about desperate, unrequited love. ‘Evil’, also from ‘Antics’ taps into that same vital, positive energy, yielding one of the strangest audience singalong moments with the line “Hey who’s on trial?”
An inspired pairing of ‘No I In Threesome’ and ‘The New’ toward the end of the set were delivered with a frank and open tenderness, despite dealing with themes of relationship tension and emotional self-preservation. I like to think that these songs offer a degree of hope and resolution, of starting over, even if the ultimate conclusion of both is that not even the smallest fragment of possibility actually remains.
The encore triplet of ‘Lights’, ‘All The Rage Back Home’ and ‘Slow Hands’ was completely owned by Fogarino. With Interpol, your eye is inevitably drawn to the immaculate sharp-suited Kessler and Banks. Fogarino’s contribution is often overlooked, but his drumming style is an absolutely critical ingredient to the band’s sound, a tight, impenetrable, relentless approach to his kit requiring no frills or wild displays of dexterity.
‘The aim now is perfection, always’ sings Banks on the piano-led ‘Toni’ that opened the set. As a statement of intent and a mantra, it sums up absolutely everything about this band and their vital energy. The early 2000s New York scene may have atomised long ago, but Interpol remain as masterfully understated and important as they were when they first appeared.
Words: Mat Smith
Photos: Andy Sturmey
If You Really Love Nothing
Into The Night
Take You On A Cruise
Pioneer To The Falls
Rest My Chemistry
No I In Threesome
All The Rage Back Home