Interpol Live - Atlanta - October 2003

It's getting harder to believe in rock and roll.

Hyped bands come and go, and it's only a matter of time until a band takes the preemptive step of naming an album "The Inevitable Backlash", as suggested by a friend of mine back home in Blighty. But that was England; things are different here: in a land where Arnold is governor, where appearance and hype are paramount, we need scarcely be surprised when the Big New Thing is a damp squid.

If Interpol aren't quite that, it's increasingly apparent that they're not all that they should be, either. With the exception of guitarist Daniel Kessler, who is cool and charismatic in a way that singer Paul Banks, well, isn't, and Carlos D, who looks unnervingly like a goth version of the dad in Back To The Future, Interpol just stand there. And the guy sings. But, in the first of the inevitable comparisons to Joy Division, the singer here ain't shaking, and is very much in control -- too much, as the show strings out into one long rendition of the album, "Turn on the Bright Lights". It's fuzzier, and lacks some of the polish and -- surprisingly, for a live act -- some of the heart.. but that's all it is.

The light show's fine -- predominantly sombre and edgy like it should be, with band members cut into sillhouette by bright beams of white light -- and there's not too much to complain about the sound, with the guitars pristine and shimmering; and yet, the more they sound like they should, the more depressing it all gets. Interpol are from a tradition that is in all major respects European: they carry the spirit of Joy Division, of course, but also of Echo and the Bunnymen, of Bauhaus - even, at times, when the light is right and the guitars are low-slung, of The Sisters of Mercy. And they'd carry it off, if only they didn't seem so much the one-trick pony. Live, their single-dimensionality is brought to the fore, and it's clear that they're missing the true pathos of Ian Curtis, the vocal chops of McCulloch, the energy of Pete Murphy or Andrew Eldritch. Their sound is resolutely their own, and it's a good one - but it doesn't ever really go anywhere, and you start to feel like you've heard it all before after the tenth minor-key, pretty-guitar, dark-vocal slab of meaningless angst floods over you.

But the greatest problem is that which was endemic to the shoegazing bands of the early 90s: that staring at shoes just isn't all that interesting. In the studio, it doesn't matter - but live, American music has always been at its best when fuelled by the energy of its performers. This is the land that brought us Iggy Pop, Pere Ubu, The Replacements. In this respect, though, it's not only the band that disappoints: it's also the audience. Indie music concerts over here seem to foster an environment in which live music simply cannot thrive, and even those bands who do give their all are faced with a crowd that nods its head, taps its foot, and tries to look cool. Where is the attitude? Where is the rock and roll? A half-hearted and admittedly misguided attempt to get things moving a little up front results in stern looks, shaken heads. "You've no idea what this band is about, have you?", someone asks: the epitome of pretentiousness, especially for so young a band. And what *is* the band about? "Subway she is a porno," apparently. "You are a past dinner the last winner I'm raking all around me." When it doesn't make sense, sometimes it's not because it's mysterious and insightful: it's because it's drivel. And that's _okay_, so long as nobody's taking it too seriously.

But here in Atlanta, everyone does take it too seriously. Too many people worrying about how they look; too many indie kids looking for the new thing - no matter what it is, so long as it's sanctioned by the indie record stores and the indie magazines. It seems that, at some point, indie here slipped over the mainstream: there's an identifiable indie hairstyle, an indie t-shirt look, an indie record collection: even your parents listen to The Flaming Lips. And even this isn't a bad thing on its own - but when I turn my head and see someone playing air guitar, when I watch as the people hop gently up and down in a single spot and touch up their carefully messy hairdos, as I hear the recommendation that I "try out the Vines" from somebody who doesn't know who the Velvets are, I have to start to wonder what's happened.

Maybe I'm becoming an old fart; and maybe I'm losing touch. But it's a real shame when nobody seems to really give a damn; when every tune that you hear, everywhere, is pretty but strangely empty, edgy but circumspect. It feels as though postmodernism has infested even the kids' rock and roll; and it's a sad thing. And live music, at its best, is a wonderful thing, achieving a symbiosis between performer and audience, a feedback loop in which magic can happen - but here, where nobody seems to want to express him or her self, when knowing the bands and owning the rare singles is more important than the music itself, when people are afraid or otherwise unwilling to to step out of their little two-foot-square boxes and to stop frowning and to have some fun and to really love the sound - here, something is lost.

In the final analysis, Interpol remain a good band with what is a hugely promising debut album. But if they want to be a great band, they need to do a little more, to try a little harder. Yes, yes, we know that they're from New York and that New York is jaded and cynical and witty - but New York is also energetic, seedy, alive. And even the mopiest of bands - say, The Smiths - only carry it off if they have a sense of humour, of the ridiculous. It's something that Interpol lack. Interpol, and its audience, too.

George Carless

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