Concert Review: Interpol Revisit Beloved Debut Album on 15th Anniversary Run

Interpol let the music do the talking on Friday night (Sept. 1) as the band celebrated the 15th anniversary of “Turn On The Bright Lights” at London’s Alexandra Palace. The 2002 debut release launched the New York scenesters onto an international stage, though they have been largely absent from it in recent years. Perhaps that’s why the few words spoken by frontman Paul Banks were to thank the sold-out crowd. The show is one of several worldwide performances.

When “Turn On The Bright Lights” emerged onto the New York scene in the wake of debuts from the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, there was an immediate comparison of Interpol to post-punk acts like Joy Division. Banks’ monotone vocals, in particular, suggested a worship of Ian Curtis. But seeing Interpol unfurl the album’s 11 tracks today revealed a stronger punk inclination than was apparent on the recorded version – or even during those earlier shows. As the band, which included former Secret Machines’ bassist Brandon Curtis on keys, launched into “Obstacle 1,” the second track on the album, an edgy, unpolished vibe slid into the instrumentals, an infectious energy building through the packed venue. “Hands Away,” too, felt raw and thunderous.

As the musicians reached the album’s end, lingering over “Roland” with hypnotic lights and beats, a strange phenomenon became apparent. The members of Interpol – notably absent of former bassist Carlos D, who is not part of the anniversary celebration – hardly moved, backlit as they stood stoically through the set. Like England’s shoe-gaze greats, a frenetic energy and momentum was felt despite their lack of movement.

The band concluded their live performance of the album with “The Specialist,” a track that appeared on Interpol’s 2002 self-titled EP and was included as a bonus track on international editions of “Turn On The Bright Lights.” As the song faded, Banks thanked the crowd again and the band exited the stage with no fanfare or explanation. They returned for a second set of hits, including “Slow Hands” and “All The Rage Back Home,” but there was nary a mention of celebration of the concert’s intended purpose, despite the fact that excerpts of Lizzy Goodman’s recent book chronicling the NYC scene of the early 2000s, “Meet Me In The Bathroom,” were handed out outside the venue.

There was also no introduction for new track “Real Life,” presumably from Interpol’s forthcoming sixth album, which is intended for release next year on Matador. The mid-tempo, rhythmic number was nestled in between “Slow Hands” and “Lights,” and segued seamlessly with the older material.

The 90-minute show concluded with “Evil,” a track from 2004’s “Antics” that remains one of Interpol’s finest moments. There, at the very end, the 30-plus-aged crowd finally found its collective voice and sang along, a reminder that Interpol is a band centered on building moods not verse-driven radio singles.

The song was a final punctuating punch, but certainly not the show’s sonic peak. Interpol, who spent the entire concert at attention and in silhouette, don’t need to rely on popular singles or catchy hooks. Their best moments come unexpectedly, on tracks like jammed-out “Turn On The Bright Lights” closer “Leif Erikson,” when vibe and energy led the way. If there’s a term in music physics for the creation of motion with no movement, it could be called Interpolian.

Interpol performs at London's Alexandra Palace on Sept. 1.
Interpol performs at London's Alexandra Palace on Sept. 1.

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