My absolute favorite band, Interpol, headed by frontman Paul Banks, released their debut album “Turn On the Bright Lights” in 2002, and has put out mostly garbage since. And they’ve got a lot of garbage. Despite seeing their past setlists and knowing that only about 40 percent of a given performance would be from their debut — hence fearing 60 percent garbage — I decided to purchase a concert ticket to see Interpol live at the Chicago Theatre on February 7, 2019.
They did the impossible and made garbage sound absolutely amazing live. Not only that, but the songs from their freshman album were even more breathtaking to hear live. The same drum fills and basslines I’ve been listening to since 2015 finally came to life, and they were everything I hoped they would be.
Interpol has always made a name for itself with its heavy instrumentation, new songs or old, and proper effects and mixing can help that come through beautifully in a concert hall, as it did for me. This instrumentation isn’t metal or ridiculously fast and technical either, but slow and unbelievably thick and vaguely sad. Think of, say, The Killers or Franz Ferdinand but much slower. Or Joy Division but only moderately less depressed. Though their original bassist left, his amazing playing is the reason that the band’s early long-built intros and outros are as outstanding as they are. Bluntly put, the expert drum and bass playing are what makes Interpol’s great songs what they are.
Bear in mind, you can still tell that a song is garbage, even if it sounds fantastic live. The drums and bass were mixed so high to reach tickets as far back as mine — see: the nosebleeds — and the on-beat light show made for an amazing spectacle. This given, you can tell if the loud backing fits well with the track or if it's artificially cranked up on a poppier, less-driving song.
The opening number was a show-stopper, “Pioneer to the Falls.” Though not from their debut album, even on recording it sounds like it could be, being heavily bass-driven and dependent on a handful of gigantic drops. To be hearing my favorite band perform live, and to hear their signature sound live right off the bat, made me very shamelessly start to tear up a bit.
Their best songs live were almost definitely “NYC,” “Pioneer to the Falls,” “The New,” “Obstacle 1,” and “Roland,” all but one from their opening album.
Paul Banks, their lead singer, fell into a falsetto in later albums and seems to have a problem snapping out of it? On the debut album, his comparatively-gravelly voice adds a lot of weight to many of the more serious songs, almost sounding like more spoken word than proper singing-singing. His newer sing-song performance didn’t bring any of the older songs down significantly or anything, but it was awkward to hear familiar songs with an almost new voice.
The venue itself was stellar, with its location in the Loop and an ornately-decorated interior. My nosebleed tickets still had a clear view of the stage and didn’t hold back my ability to enjoy the show or hear the music at all. That iconic vertical “CHICAGO” sign right along State Street was absolutely magical to finally walk underneath.
One bothering thing, however, was that the average age of the concert-goer was 40 years old! How could an early-2000s indie rock band draw the same crowd as the social security line? Then it hit me just how long ago 2002 was. If you were, say, 20 years old in 2002, the prime age for getting into a group like Interpol, that would put you at 37 all of these 17 years later. I was only 3 years old when my favorite album came out. Am I into old people music? Will I suddenly go bald and start collecting Beach Boys vinyls? How much longer until all of my shoes turn into New Balances or Sketchers? Does my love of dad jokes mean something?
These questions haunt me at night.
But overall, Interpol put on an amazing show live, managing to turn their trash albums into performance treasure. Even running on three hours of sleep and exhausted from scholarship hosting I had a blast. I’d give it a strong-to-decent eight out of 10; they easily could’ve had a 10 if they exclusively played their debut, but that’s just me.