Interpol Holds a Mass Celebration of Ennui at the Warfield

Categories: Last Night
Interpol-11-1.jpg
Richard Haick
Interpol at the Warfield last night.
Interpol
School of Seven Bells
January 30, 2011
@ The Warfield

Better than: Your average rock band's light show.

So, how did everyone enjoy their night at the Planetarium with Interpol?

Not that Interpol is a bad band. In fact it's an excellent band -- at least on record.

Great live shows, however, always have a certain ebb and flow to them. Emotional highs and lows, dramatic peaks and quieter valleys. Fast, aggressive songs followed by mellower ones -- a sense that the set list has been put together with the idea of overall balance in mind.

Interpol's show last night at The Warfield had none of that. It did, however, have a fantastic light show, with the band spending most of the gig dramatically backlit in a way that gave more than a few nods to the '80s.

It takes more than cool lighting to make a great show, though. For example, it takes a band that knows how to put on a dynamic performance. And that's where Interpol fell flat.

Interpol-11-2.jpg
Richard Haick
Again, it's not that the band members didn't play well. They were tight and well-rehearsed, their sound crystalline and immaculate, each song almost identical to its recorded equivalent. It was just that, well, those songs sound awfully similar to each other when you play them back to back. There's nothing wrong with having a signature sound, but when it's hard to tell the bridge of one song apart from the next one, it's time to ask if a band's devotion to its signature sound has gone a bit overboard.

The Planetarium analogy kept coming to mind because, honestly, why even bother going to see a band when their live show sounds exactly like their albums? (Well, that and the cool light show.) Although bass player David Pajo was trying to add a little excitement, he appeared to be the only member of the band who didn't have his feet superglued to the stage floor. Interpol may be a good band, but the guys in it aren't exactly dynamic performers. Last night was kind of like watching a really big, successful Joy Division tribute band, but without any of the genuine pain or anger that made Joy Division so compelling. The overall sense of gloomy, moody angst was there, but without any sense of real trauma underlying it.

Interpol-11-3.jpg
Richard Haick
And then there was the audience, which spent most of the show looking oddly unresponsive. Granted this is partially a hipster thing -- can't be seen to be too enthusiastic! But still, the feeling from the crowd was oddly flat and lacking in emotional affect. The whole thing felt like a mass celebration of ennui, rather than cathartic in the way that shows by bands that lean dark and angsty can often be. 

Things did liven up a bit towards the end, with a few audience members actually breaking out the dance moves for "NYC" and "Obstacle 1." There was applause throughout, so perhaps the rest of the audience found the whole thing more exciting than your reviewer did. But the view of an almost unmoving pit from the balcony was a bit depressing, and the whole thing felt sort of anti-climatic, as if the audience was waiting for a final crescendo that just never came. 

Interpol-11-4.jpg
Richard Haick
It's not often that you go to see a band whose albums you genuinely like and come away feeling like there's no point ever going to see them again. I wanted to like Interpol live, but with so many bands competing for your concert-going dollars, it's hard to justify spending them on one that's so lacking in dynamism and stage presence.

The biggest criticism of this group has always been that there's something fundamentally cold about its sound and presence. Unfortunately, when watching Interpol live, that quality was a lot harder to ignore.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: Having seen Joy Division/New Order's Peter Hook live a little over a month ago probably set me up not to be too impressed with Interpol - the original is almost always better than the sequel.

The crowd: All ages, lots and lots of hipsters, more plaid shirts than a lumberjack convention.

Overheard in the crowd: Absolutely nothing. One of the least chatty crowds I have ever seen.

Random notebook dump: "Wait, isn't this the same bridge the last song had? No, it just sounds the same, kind of. Oh look, there it is again!"

Did you know?: Interpol are down to only two out of four original members. 

SchoolOf7Bells-11.jpg
Richard Haick
Opener School of Seven Bells
----
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Location Info

Venue

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Warfield Theatre

982 Market, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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16 comments
Britt Mofo
Britt Mofo

The show was actually on the 31.

Cary
Cary

I was in the pit, and it was jam packed, and difficult to dance and move. I did find the crowd sedate. I bought general admission tickets after spending the concert sit-dancing in my seat at the Interpol Fox Theater concert in Oakland, last fall. Perhaps farther back on one of the "mezzanines" on the main floor would have provided more room to dance. I enjoyed the band.

Benny W
Benny W

Evening all, I'm posting from windblown Liverpool, England. Having seen Interpol twice in December and both times being blown away by their corruscating brilliance, I'm finding this review a tad difficult to reconcile. Maybe Kirsty caught them on a bad night - or maybe she just doesn't quite 'get' the dynamics of a great band, live. It's not a scientific, box-ticking exercise: "jumped around a lot". Check." Made meaningful eye-contact with fans". Check. The slightly forensic and formulaic approach the reviewer takes leads this jaded Scouser to conclude the Interpol show was just a wrong match for her. Have no doubt, Interpol are up there with Radiohead as one of the most important bands in the world.

guest
guest

I must have been at a different Interpol show than the reviewer last night.... I thought the pit was pretty lively, from where I was sitting. Also, the Warfield just doesn't lend itself to much movement in the seats--one of the reasons I don't love it there. Besides, you were at an Interpol show--they're low-key and slightly morose (in a good way). Like reading TS Eliot as opposed to Walt Whitman, ya know?

guest
guest

PS Also--they didn't play "NYC" anywhere *near* the end of the show--just adding to my impression that you perhaps weren't actually there?

Cruisrdg
Cruisrdg

I have seen the band live twice, and last night's show was by far the better....the fact that Daniel played "The Lighthouse" was astonishing! and "Not Only Jail" as the final encore was fabulous after the slow buildup. This reviewer just does not "get" Interpol - it was obvious last night that their fans did. It was a great show.

Teddy
Teddy

I considered their last song Obstacle 1 to be the final crescendo you said never came. The encore of slow songs was definitely anti-climactic for such an energized audience though.

Jon
Jon

No one moved to NYC (there was swaying and a lot of singing along), but Say Hello the Angels, The Heinrich Maneuver, Lights, and Slow Hands all had people jumping and moving along. Despite the band's reservedness on stage, the crowd did move.

Also, Greg Drudy left before the band cut their first record. He isn't really considered an integral member or anything like Carlos was. So that's really splitting hairs to say 2 of the founding members have left.

Guest
Guest

I was at this show. David Pajo barely moved, but Daniel Kessler danced around quite a bit. I agree with the band being sedate, but I don't think anyone expects that from Interpol. The sound was a lot like the record, not much change.

However, I don't know where you were standing but in the pit at the bottom it was chatty to a fault. A lot of obnoxious girls talking and singing off-key. That was one of things that stood out to me the most and was a definitely drawback to the concert.

Guest
Guest

Agree with the pit comment. I was 2nd row center with a great view of Paul, Daniel, and Sam. But it was hard to focus on the show...at least move- cause I had some chick's fat belly leaning against me, almost pushing me into the rail. All this while girls were screaming "Daniel!! You sexy thing!! I wanna have your babies!!" Annoying.

Guest
Guest

You were probably by me. Holy shit were those girls the most annoying. I eventually elbowed the girl enough times to get her to stop singing all the lyrics in my ear.

Interpol fan
Interpol fan

It was a great show. The sound was on point. The band was amazing. I would see them again, and again. I love Interpol. This article blows.

guest
guest

I couldn't agree with you more and I strongly disagree with the author. This was by far the best performance I have seen from them so far. The sound, the "stage presence", the EVERYTHING!

Andy Mendizabal
Andy Mendizabal

Interpol have only lost 1 member, Carlos D. Interpol still has 3 original members, Sam Fogarino, Daniel Kessler, and Paul Banks.

I don't agree with you either about the band having one bland sound. Their music really does vary and there's no way I'd confuse one for the other.

I agree Peter Hook's "Unknown Pleasures" celebration was a great show too but Interpol just never has been as energetic as Joy Division. Interpol give you that vibe that these are the things you'd write about if you knew how to write whether it was a breakup or just a good time. Very mellow yes, but that's not to say the crowd wasn't enjoying it.

Stephen S
Stephen S

Maybe she's talking about the original drummer Greg Drudy, who left in 2000, before they recorded their debut lp. She must be a hardcore fan. But I don't see how she could have missed Daniel's fancy footwork.

Kirsty
Kirsty

You say mellow, I say boring. We will have to agree to disagree (about the sound varying too - I felt like I was stuck in one of those awful techno venues where you find yourself wondering if the DJ went off to pee and just left the same track playing on loop.)

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