Concert review: Interpol looks back to find rock at the Pageant, Friday, February 11

Interpol at the Pageant

Nate Burrell

It was 2002 and the buzz was strong surrounding the release of Turn on the Bright Lights, the debut LP from the stylish NYC rock musicians Interpol. The sound was a blend of something fresh yet also highly nostalgic of post-punk predecessors; fans and critics alike gave this album much praise.

The band came back strong in 2004 with Antics, and then its first major label release on Capitol in 2007 with Our Love to Admire. Interpol had hit its peak in popularity, the sound more studio polished and garnering much in the way of commercial radio play and even some air time on MTV.

Fast-forward to present day and Interpol is touring in support of its fourth studio LP, simply titled Interpol. This was a return for the rockers to Matador records but not a commercial departure, as they are slotted to open for the fourth leg of U2′s 360 tour this year which is stopping in at Busch Stadium in July. Their new record has received very mixed reviews. So how would this new material come across live?

Things got off to a slow start Friday night at the Pageant. Opening act School of Seven Bells, an electronic-rock trio, was set to go on at 8 p.m.8:15 p.m. but came out closer to 8:30 p.m. The group hit the stage without much bang, standing around for nearly 5 minutes to a background of ambient guitar noise before launching into a 25-minute + set. SVIIB’s mix of live instrumentation and sequences just never blended quite right, and overall it felt like a band that was much more comfortable in the studio environment rather than out in front of a live audience.

The opener left the stage before the clock struck 9 and the roadies came out to prepare the stage for Interpol. Another 35 minutes passed with the house lights on and music playing over the P.A. before the lights finally dimmed. The main act took the stage behind a thick layer of fog and strong blue lights bathing the crowd.

Interpol got things started with a new track, “Success,” a reverb-heavy, atmospheric song that started out slow but built tension as it went along. After the slow start to the evening, coming out with something up-tempo would have been nice, but the audience seemed responsive, happy just to have the band on stage.

A few songs in and we got our first fan favorite — one of many we would hear throughout the night — “Narc,” whose opening guitar riff was met with much applause and enthusiasm. The band did a fine job at working the set list, playing tracks from all four of their albums with good pacing.

The catchy tune “Barricade,” one of the first singles from the new record, was well received, but not as much so as a performance of “Evil” with its memorable opening bass line.

Interpol could have come out a bit tired, being 8 years later and still churning out many of the same songs. But this was far from the case. The band seemed engaged all evening, enthusiastic, happy to be playing. This time around the musicians seemed more confident and mature. They were up to some of their usual antics as they came out sporting stylish suits as if they had just left a political fundraiser and headed straight to the Pageant. Paul Banks’ vocals projected really well all night; his voice sounded strong and fresh. Lead guitarist Daniel Kessler was up to his usual routine, prancing around the stage with his semi-hollow guitars in small, spidery and entertaining movements.

The up-tempo rock number “C’Mere” got the crowd excited, as did all of the old material. While all successful bands have a catalog of crowd-pleasing hits, Interpol seemed to rely very heavily on its history. Some of this backwards gaze owes to the fact that they have written some fantastic songs in the past, but it also seems partly because they haven’t delivered a wealth of memorable material with their last couple of releases.

The evening ended with a trio of old favorites, “Untitled,” the opening track from Turn on the Bright Lights, “Slow Hands,” and the show closer of “Not Even Jail.”

Based on the crowd response, the majority of the fans at the Pageant came to hear the old material, and it sounded great. No disrespect to Interpol — who did put on a great performance — but it all just felt a lot cooler five years ago when the material was still fresh.