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Interpol / Calla
Jan. 15, 2003
Sokol Underground


Although I expected one, there was no line to get in to see Interpol at the Sokol Underground tonight, Jan. 15. I figured that the promoter was crazy to have the show downstairs rather than up in the ballroom. It turns out that the promoter was right as usual, because the Underground was the perfect venue, both in capacity and ambiance. The promoter wouldn't say how many paid, only that it was a sell-out, which was obvious once you were inside and warm and out of the heavy show that was pouring down in the street. The line to get in, when there was one, was handled quickly and I didn't notice anyone getting turned away. It might have been packed, but if the show had been upstairs, it would have seemed half empty and hollow and less important.

Once it started, it was like any other Underground show, really. The opening band, Calla, came on at around 9:45. Live, they didn't really resemble the band on their new CD, Televise. Instead, the music was medium-slow and throbby with an implied drone and vocals that seemed lost in the haze. Though I like the CD, I thought they were relatively boring on stage, with songs that did little and seemed to go on forever. The person next to me said that I needed to take the right chemicals to fully enjoy their set. I think he was right -- this was trippy head music, something that you would hear in the background of a cheap B-flick during the scene where everyone takes acid and the cameraman tries to capture the "trip" by zooming in and out on the actors' groggy faces.

Thankfully, it was a short set, maybe four or five songs.

Then along came Interpol, dressed in their usual black costumes. I remembered how nervous and shallow and flat they sounded a week earlier on The Late Show with David Letterman -- all that wonderful reverb and echo on the vocals -- so integral to the CD -- had been completely washed away by the fine folks at CBS. Tonight, however, was a different story. Though they never strayed from the basic recorded compositions, the band sounded much fuller, deeper, even more canyon-esque than on CD. My comrade who stood next to me in the back of the room by the soundboard, snagged the set list, printed out in plain, bold, centered, 32 pt. san serif type. It said:

OB 1

There was also a two-song encore, but I don't know Interpol's music well enough to tell you the songs' names. "Length" was their new one, and stood out as being catchier than the others, but all-in-all, was another typical Interpol song. For those who don't know what this band sounds like, here's my take: Mid-tempo, brooding, chiming repeated 16th notes, understated throbbing bass, back-beat kick drum, controlled, stoic, Indian chant vocals a la deadpan Jim Morrison sung in a forced Cloris Leachman-as-Nurse Diesel tone, all covered in lots of reverb. When they really rock they're like Flock of Seagulls without the big chorus.

The sound was terrific. Their performance was dead on. Their stage presence (other than their black suits) was non existent except for Carlos, who managed to pull out an interesting swagger (though he seemed less animated than when he was on Letterman). The additional keyboards added depth and tone, especially to "NYC." On one song, the keys and rhythm section reminded me of early Pet Shop Boys. I'm sure that wasn't the intention.

The crowd seemed to love it, though no one really danced. A few girls in the back sort of wiggled on top of chairs, but for the most part, people were just transfixed, staring at the stage.

It dawned on me about three-quarters through their set just how static Interpol's music really is. It's enjoyable, almost ambient and certainly atmospheric. But this isn't rock music. Not really. I realized that if I were 18 and driving around in an El Camino with a six-pack on the bench seat on my way to the bar to meet some friends for a night of drinking and trying pick up chicks, Turn on the Bright Lights would be just about the last tape that I'd be putting in my car stereo. They might be enjoying a certain amount of popularity in the indie world, but this band, as they currently are configured, will never be more than a niche act, an art display, a conversation piece in an underground record store. And that's just fine with me.

The show ended at midnight, and when we walked out (sweaty and smelling of smoke), the snow had almost stopped.

It's 1 a.m.

back torevhead.gif (1924 bytes)   Posted Jan. 16, 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.








It dawned on me about three-quarters through their set just how static Interpol's music really is. It's enjoyable, almost ambient and certainly atmospheric. But this isn't rock music.