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Interpol stand their ground live, but leave much to be desired

The US band's recent gig at the Palais Theatre on Friday January 4 showcased more than 20 years of music.

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Sally Townsend

Any band with over two decades under their belt has to assess a legacy with every show they play. It’s hard to say how comfortable NYC rockers Interpol are with that fact. Once upon a time they were the second face of the 2000s New York post-punk revival, holding a mysterious literary edge over The Strokes’ brash, bald faced rock. Decades later, however, The Strokes have veered into far weirder territory than Interpol perhaps ever will. Interpol came out fully formed on their 2002 debut Turn On The Bright Lights, a work of understated grandeur led by vocalist Paul Banks’ post-9/11 collegiate existentialism and complemented by reverb-drenched groove. The succeeding records stood fast in their airy-pop production, though as last year’s Marauder showed, the band have disappeared into self-imitation.

As the live quintet stepped out onto the Palais Theatre stage, they wore their signature mono black suits and brandished a staunch cool to a well-versed audience. Our Love to Admire’s ‘Pioneer to the Falls’ sliced open the vein of melancholic groove. Banks’ voice was more rugged than the studio recording, though as his earthy baritone asked “show me the dirt pile,” the ambiguity of his words felt physically affecting. 

The band were shrouded in shadow under a giant disco ball, flanked by two smaller ones. The purpose wasn’t as ironic as it seemed, with strobe lighting from behind refracted to speckle them. The overactive lights suited Interpol’s stationary stage presence; theirs was a disco of the heart. ‘C’mere’ followed, with a significantly faster tempo, just like many of the tracks on Antics. It wasn’t better or worse, simply more frantic.

TOTBL album track ‘Roland’ didn’t feel like a deep cut when guitarist Daniel Kessler began playing the fretful opening riff, but the near 2,500-strong Palais crowd awoke from their respectful seated slumber. Whatever the losses incurred by Banks’ bizarre rap solo ventures, they bolstered his performance here, as he barrelled into double time flow. Kessler devised a kind of tap dance move to the desperate beat. 

“Sam Fogarino on the Drumarinos,” Banks grinned.

When songs from Marauder sat next to these iconic tracks, they whimpered indistinctly. ‘If You Really Love Nothing’ was played with vigour, ‘Complications’ had a middling kind of funk and ‘The Rover’ almost attracted excitement but it all seemed to fall into an Interpol malaise. It was hardly incidental that Banks announced the name of every song from the record and no others. Anytime these concerns about the band’s direction entered your head however, there was an ‘NYC’ to allay your worry. The song’s enveloping letter of love and paranoia to the big apple evidently rang out to Melburnians too: the idea that the backdrop of urban chaos is actually a comforting constant to the turbulent variance of life – just substitute the subway for PTV.

Fan favourites ‘Rest My Chemistry’ and ‘Say Hello to The Angels’ accompanied the occasional band slip up, though the crowd didn’t miss one of Banks’ dictatory words. At their core, Interpol are pop songwriters dressed impeccably well and the two tracks closing the main set showed them at the peak of their powers. ‘Slow Hands’ is a three-minute hit song with a faux profundity to its declarations of love (“You make me want to pick up a guitar and celebrate the myriad ways that I love you”). ‘The New’ is a six-minute prog dirge, tunnelling through several guitar-driven sections with a violent kind of grace. The instrumentation, however, still encases a poignantly simple sentiment that sometimes love isn’t enough (“I can't pretend I need to defend, some part of me from you”).

The encore was, as expected, fit with ‘Evil’ and ‘Obstacle 1’, which, pleasantly, they still seem to enjoy playing. ‘Not Even Jail’ was the show’s non-obligatory gift to the hardcore fans. The siren-bass slapped with force over Fogarino’s snare march, before the guitar line burst through the ethereal ceiling. Nothing about this show felt like it looked to the future, but it’s hard to pile on the responsibility of legacy when the music is still this good. 

Highlight: ‘Not Even Jail’, ‘The New’.

Lowlight: The album tracks from Marauder ‘Number 10’ and ‘NYSMAW’ gaining nothing live.

Crowd Favourite: ‘Slow Hands’ and ‘Evil’.