Interpol and Liars
October 20, 2007
Bill Graham Civic Hall,
San Francisco, CA.
Better Than: Pretty much everything else this year.
Download: An Interpol stream.
San Francisco did the impossible Saturday night --- they made Interpol smile.
The poe-faced, New York City post-punk quartet unexpectedly broke character ...
at the end of their 80-minute set at Bill Graham Civic Hall Saturday night to smile and wave and thank the ebullient hall, saying “San Francisco is the best fucking crowd.”
Keep in mind, this is Interpol. They don't do that shit. They write moody songs full of oblique lyrics and icy minor chords. They didn't gush humbly when they played BFD in June, and they didn't tell everyone how happy they were to be here when they showed up Saturday night at 9:30 p.m.
We have come to expect such behavior. Interpol has a industry-wide reputation for their moody post-punk, nice suits, tight sets, and a quick exit without all the usual rock talk, boozy antics or anti-war tirades. They are consummate professionals more in line with Franz Lizst than Freddy Mercury. So when they basked in the jubilant applause at the end of the encore, it was the first time I've been to show and felt like the audience had lived up to the band's standards. Which sounds like some fucked up shit when I write it, but let me explain.
Gone Saturday night was the stage diving, the mosh pits, the drunken song requests and pretty much all the bad behavior that you expect from any crowd at 10 p.m. on a Saturday in downtown San Francisco.
Instead, the crowd of more than a few thousand shut the fuck up for the songs, listened to every exquisite note, and clapped heartily at the end, only to shut the fuck up again for the next song. It was a miracle. It was as though people actually wanted to listen to every last note the band had to play, as opposed to SF's Morrissey shows -- which quickly devolved into emo sing-alongs that begged the question: “did you attend to listen or to shout?”
Though the band opened with some material from 2007's Our Love to Admire, they spent lengthy periods in their back catalog, bringing out Turn On the Bright Lights for the encore opener, while hitting "Obstacle 1", and pretty much every awesome song they do: “Evil” “Slow Hands” “NYC” "The Heinrich Maneuver" "Rest My Chemistry". What great songs didn't they do, SF? And why are there so many, given their intensely proscribed sound boundaries? There is no reason why they should be as good as they are, given “the death of rock” and all that.
Lead singer Paul Banks' voice is as inimitable live as it is on the records --- this nasal, flat, atonal, anomied drawl threading a dead line down the mid-range while bassist Carlos D. works the bottom and precision guitarist Daniel Kessler handles the top. Powering it all, Sam Fogarin's drumming never misses a note, and he HITS HARD! The songs fit together as tight as the seams in their suits, with essentially zero jammy interludes or noodling. So well-crafted are these tunes, that they by nature leave no room for that stuff. Taking a solo would be like tarnishing the brushed steel of a MacBook Pro with a lowly band bumper sticker. Get some class.
I really, really hate it when NYU art kids end up actually being as cool as they pretend to be, and unfortunately Interpol is the real deal. Their whole act is like a polemic against butt rock cliches. The way they present themselves and play says: “Take some fucking pride in your work. Make great songs. Learn to play them perfectly front and back. Then put on your Sunday best and let the work speak for itself. Fuck all that running around the stage, back-flipping, beer-spitting, “Hello, Cleveland!” ... “put your hands in the air!”... “say 'hey,' say 'ho'” ... audience participation bullshit. Just fucking play your songs and fuck what everybody else thinks.”
And the audience just roars and roars.
Personal Bias: Lots of bad relationships make vaguely misanthropic lyrics resonate.
Random Detail: This show ended early, like a sober 10:30 p.m. early. It seemed almost civilized.