Posted by: Jeff | August 6, 2010

Live Review: Interpol @ Ram’s Head Live, Baltimore, MD

2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights is one of my favorite releases of the past decade, an alternative rock album that channels new wave soundscapes to craft intricate layers of sound with repetitive and even simplistic instrumentation.  It’s a dark and heavy album, surprising considering the use of sparse treble melodies.  When Interpol arrived, they were quickly labeled a brooding and introspective band, creating icy songs to carry the lovelorn and anguished lyrics of frontman Paul Banks, who ruminates on the challenges of living in New York City and fading love in aging relationships.

Seeming to take this as criticism, the band changed direction, offering more uptempo dance-rock numbers on their next two albums, Antics and Our Love To Admire.  The result has certainly been a more radio-friendly repertoire, but it did lose Interpol some admiration amongst early fans.  So it was with some excitement that Interpol announced that 2010’s forthcoming album would be a return to the form established on Turn on the Bright Lights.  Lead single ‘Lights’ seems to confirm that rumor, so the announcement of an Interpol tour preceding the new album’s release was very exciting news indeed.

However, leaving Ram’s Head after the show, I felt like Interpol just didn’t bring it.  Yes, the tour comes on the heels of the announcement that bassist Carlos D has left the band.  And yes, the tour was originally meant to be in support of U2 (Interpol rescheduled several dates after U2’s Bono suffered a tour-ending back injury). But I still felt like Interpol kind of phoned this one in.

Offering a surprisingly short set (13 songs + encore), Paul Banks and company left the stage very early in the evening, as the crowd of pretty diehard Interpol supporters – at one point in the evening, there was a chant for “Stella Was A Diver (And She Was Always Down) after all – milled about mostly confused about whether there would be a second encore.  Scattering a few previously-unheard tracks among dance-ready favorites from Antics and Our Love To Admire, it felt like Interpol gave short shrift to the dark, baroque texturing of Turn on the Bright Lights.  In fact, most of the tracks they did play off TOTBL were the most uptempo on the album (‘PDA’, ‘Say Hello to the Angels’, ‘Obstacle 1’).

Mostly, the band stuck to more danceable offerings like ‘The Heinrich Maneuver’, ‘Slow Hands’, and ‘Evil’ – all tracks that deserve a place in any Interpol setlist, but given the short set time, weren’t quite worth the opportunity cost in such number.  I would have loved to hear one of the epic metamorphosing tracks like ‘The New’ or ‘Stella Was A Diver’ played out live – in fact, mini-epic ‘Leif Erikson’ was truly goosebump-inspiring.  It was the clear highlight of the night, and an example of what could have been.

The new tracks were all palatable, and ‘Lights’ is even more immense live than on headphones.  It grows and grows until it completely swallows the audience in deep brooding sound.  If the new album offers more like that, it will indeed be a gem.  ‘Evil’ was another early highlight, and had the whole crowd bouncing and bopping along.  If there was any doubt that this was a friendly crowd, one only needed to see the wide eyes and open mouths at the opening bassline and enunciation of “Rosemaryyyyy…”

In the end, it felt like this is a warmup for Interpol – testing out a new bassist, preparing for the album’s actual release.  The announcement of a full tour this fall seems to confirm that.  Which is a shame, because had I known they would be back (and closer to home!) I would have waited.

After the quick main set, the encore felt a bit lackluster as well – Antics filler like ‘C’Mere’ and ‘Not Even Jail’ replaced an ideal spot for clear audience favorite ‘Stella’.  Ah well, if willing to shell out another $35 for a ticket, I’m sure we’ll hear it on their full tour this fall.

Ram’s Head, however, did live up to expectations.  It is a pretty phenomenal venue, though sightlines are a bit impeded in places.  Having multiple levels (and bars) is a pretty awesome idea, and the space looked a whole lot cooler than the venues I’m used to (930 Club, Black Cat).  I’m not sure I would ever use the seated lounge space (with tv monitors of the stage) to see a concert, but it’s an interesting idea.  Overall, the decor doesn’t make up the gap in superior sound and lights at 930, but it did make for a neat spot to see a show.

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