Interpol - Live at the Alexandra Palace, 01.09.17

Alexandra Palace is located atop a hill. A very high, very steep hill. On reaching the peak after ten minutes of trudging I’m expecting to be greeted by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing. But all there is a large Victorian art deco building and a spectacular view over London. Of course myself and some 8,250 other fans have braved the ascent tonight to see Interpol play their 2002 debut album Turn On The Bright Lights. TOTBL is one of the best albums from the early noughties and probably still my favourite Interpol album.

We enter the ‘Great Hall’ which is basically a big, empty space with a stained glass window at one end and the stage at the other. We are suitably warmed up by the special guests, a band called Haelo, who sound like Zero 7 jamming with Hawkwind and are pretty good. They finish and their equipment is quickly removed from the stage. We wait for Interpol to make their entrance. And we wait and we wait. One roadie in particular seems intent on taking the world record for the number of times you can check the tuning of three already tuned guitars.

Eventually the hall goes black and the band emerge onto the stage in a cloud of dry ice. Lit from behind by beautiful orange/red light on the backdrop, the members are featureless silhouettes on stage. This is pretty much how Interpol like it… they let their music do the talking. They lap up the applause for a brief moment before Daniel Kessler peals off the chiming opening riff to Untitled. Suddenly the rest of the band join in with this slow, atmospheric number, Paul Banks drawling “I will surprise you sometime, I’ll come round”. I have heard bad things about the acoustics of this venue but right from the off the sound is superb. The moment Brad’s bass guitar kicks in you can not only hear it perfectly clearly you can feel it thrumming through the floor.

Rapturous applause greets the end of the song but the band don’t pause for breath, plunging straight into the spiky riffed Obstacle 1, its off Kilter rhythms seemingly at odds with the melody. Then the slow, grudging litany to their home town, NYC; with its shimmering guitar and “it’s up to me now, turn on the bright lights” refrain it’s one of many highlights of the night. Despite being fifteen years old this collection of grim and gritty songs about the dark, seedy underbelly of their native city still sounds remarkably fresh, maybe because they still don’t sound like any other band. They are a perfect storm of Post Punk and Garage Rock with a dash of Joy Division’s dourness thrown in for good measure.

Although Interpol do have their own sound there is a huge variety of music on Turn On The Bright Lights. There’s the slow dirge of Hands Away and the frantic Say Hello To Angels. There’s the caustic punk of PDA, the gentle, lullaby-like The New and the icy crawl of Leif Erikson. There are some fascinating characters in the songs too, including the titular Stella, who sounds a right floozy and Roland, the butcher with his 16 knives. I’m not entirely sure it was beef he was carving. These songs are so memorable and atmospheric and the band play them with a joyful enthusiasm.

Interpol are on superb form tonight. Daniel Kessler is an exquisite guitarist, the sounds he coaxes out of his instrument are unique. He’s not flashy like some but he looks like he’s having a ball on stage. While Daniel adds the colour, Sam Fogarino is the band’s real backbone. His playing is metronomic and deceptively simple. He reminds me of Deep Purple’s Ian Paice in as much as Sam’s drum kit is quite small but he absolutely pulverises it. Paul Banks adds rhythm guitar, an occasional lead and some nice Thin Lizzy style dual guitar work with Daniel. But his main focus is obviously the vocals. Cool and laid back his rasping, sonorous voice is a perfect fit for Interpol’s sombre hymnals and he too seems to be really enjoying himself.

Touring musicians Brad Truax on bass (who looks like a bizarre cross between Nick Cave and David Vanian) and Brandon Curtis on keyboards fit right in and are both excellent players. Brad in particular cuts an imposing figure stage left and looks like he was born to be in the band.

Turn On The Bright Lights ends as it starts, in a subdued manner with the chilling Leif Erikson. The song glides along to its cacophonous conclusion and the audience rightly laud the superb performance with lengthy applause. The band tack the rarely played Specialist on to the end of the set. As Paul says, this was nearly a TOTBL song, appearing instead on the Interpol ep. And then it’s over, the band departing briefly before taking to the stage once more to play some real crowd pleasers. There’s at least one track from each of the band’s other four albums. Although it’s the trio of Antics songs that are greeted most warmly, almost everything goes down a storm.

Not Even Jail and a jaunty Slowhand get the crowd bouncing again but then the band choose to play new song, Real Life. Quite what their reasoning is for road testing an unfamiliar tune is I’m not sure and it’s complexities are hard to follow in a live setting. Consequently the atmosphere dissipates slightly. The band rescue things by playing the ethereal Lights, one of my favourite songs from their self titled fourth album.

We are treated to the driving All The Rage Back Home and The Heinrich Manoeuvre before the band wrap things up in style with Evil. A fantastic performance by a band who rarely disappoint, we empty into the cool night air and are thankful the walk back down to the station is downhill. There’s a superb view of night time London from up here and way across to the south, lighting flashes are visible across the sky. After Interpol’s electric performance that somehow seems appropriate.

Set List: Untitled / Obstacle 1 / NYC / PDA / Say Hello to the Angels / Hands Away / Obstacle 2 / Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down / Roland / The New / Leif Erikson / Specialist Encores: Not Even Jail / Slow Hands / Real Life / Lights / All the Rage Back Home / The Heinrich Maneuver / Evil


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