Lou Reed said, “I’m not leaving New York. We’re here. We are quintessential Americans – we’re not only American, but New York-American.” In this unyielding declaration of distinctiveness from an even more taut character, Reed was saying more about the identity of the city herself even than he was his own derivation from it. New York City is a notoriously fiddle-footed nymph who makes no bones whatsoever about how fast she will leave you or how hard she will laugh as you hit the ground when she does. If she loves you in the conventional sense at all, even the tiniest bit in her bantam way, you have really done something. Interpol spread through the crooked cœur of the City That Never Sleeps in the early aughts like a fit of pique born straight out of the grotty photic zone of Gotham’s sluttiest shebeen hours, but somehow did so in a way wherein the shuffle through the seeling streets had only smudged them with a greater subvocal shimmer than they started out with. Interpol really did something in a time when doing took more daring than it does today, and as they strung their sun-like stars through Atlanta’s The Eastern on Friday, September 2nd, they brought with them the mauve skies and infrared zoo thrills of way pre-Instagram New Amsterdam.
During the hopefully-not-forever-last ascendance of rock, Interpol emerged like the subroutines of a system, and with a sound that amounted to an audio potlatch ceremony, intended to guide your spirit into the eldritch eventide, with absolutely no guarantee of a return passage. There are several elements that are significant about this beyond the obvious, the most meaningful being that this was also the true-last of Gotham’s original cutpurse chapters, back when New York was still all the right kinds of dangerous and most of the wrong kinds too. So many bands who claim New York are never so much as scorned or acknowledged by it. There are attempts aplenty there at a strain of clinical authenticity that always results only in authenticity’s flaccid opposite, which is something else New York famously does not abide and refuses to grant even a mercy-killing.
Interpol was not, is not, and has never been the stepchild of honesty. They were instead the torn-asunder dysrhythmias and LED fevers-under-scimitar moons that only get born out of the species of raw night-truths that tough broads like New York specialize in. This is one reason among many that they were not just undertaken by the world’s most unforgiving city, but demanded by it. New York (and everybody else) rightly wanted them, pretty much from the word “go.” Their 2002 Bowery bowline chant of a debut album, Turn On The Bright Lights, even included a sigil-single entitled “NYC” that announced not just Interpol the band as a pronounced piece of the city’s underside to be considered, but also the way their presence amidst the subway pornos and pavement messes of that place was and remains integral to the continued existence of all seven of her best faces. Since then, Paul Banks, Daniel Kessler, and Sam Fogarino have been making music that is unabridged and unparalleled in its treatment of all the little deaths in life that are so pharmaceutically discombobulating to the brain, mostly because they are never final.
The atmosphere inside The Eastern as Banks filled it with his basso profundity of a voice this night was one of a similar redlit and indeterminate harlotry, literally as well as in feeling. Beams of scarlet, vermillion, carmine, and claret cascaded down over the band in drams, and Banks walked out to its center, standing beneath its cardinal crests receptively – awash in it with the regal Zen of a monastic surfer who is determined not to glance at the coral threatening immediate ruby gore under the waves. Red has always been Interpol’s signature color and appears in some pars pro toto form or another on nearly every one of their album covers, even where blood-hues are only implied by conspicuous absence, such as they are in the fast future fall of the deer depicted at death’s door on the frontispiece to 2007’s Our Love To Admire (QRO review) – a telling escutcheon for a backlit Book of the Dead. They are even represented by Red Light Management, a connective tie not lost on this preternaturally-attuned-to-patterns pensmith!
In Atlanta to tour their seventh studio album, The Other Side of Make-Believe (QRO review), out as of July 15th on Matador Records, Interpol has returned once again with a record distinctly chthonic, and constructed of traffic (both emotional and physical), of coiled sexual power that lies in wait, of pilgrimages to pleasurable perdition that may or may not play out the way the devil planned, and of middle-finger skylines that seem to skulk home alongside you as you return from your most recent bit of castellated folly.
Lead single “Toni”, a brutal connasse in its cinematic incarnation, with its cirrhotic wastrels of belly-crawling piano progressions all singing of dreams disturbed, is almost cenatory in the live setting. It sets the table for “Fables” which dances in the slumber of the drugged, as well as for the coniferous communiques of “Into The Night”. The lyrically electrolyzing “Mr. Credit” makes the connection between the ticker tape of memories you might have of a person with the unspooled, waking echoes of whatever the weeks ahead may make them sound like. Meanwhile, “Gran Hotel” horses right into some pictorial, pagan, and geometric space in which only Interpol could find verticality.
The Atlanta arrangement of The Other Side of Make-Believe’s sojourning speakeasy was belly-buttoned by a whole Antics interlude that included the roriferous suggestions of “Evil”, “C’Mere” with its unholy “sacred parts and getaways,” and the trinket menace of “Narc”. Though “Slow Hands”, like the sonic supermodel she is, was fashionably late in the set, and “Not Even Jail” was saved for their final encore, both were approached by Banks with the tenor of an intensivist – no critical care left misapplied and nothing careworn in sight. It is always beautiful and compelling when you see a musician that appreciates his success enough never to make misophonia out of his crowd’s must-have music.
With Cimmerian interpolations (you’re welcome) of Our Love To Admire in “Pioneer to the Falls” and “Rest My Chemistry”, “All The Rage Back Home” calling dreamily from the depurated and distant 2014 of El Pintor (QRO review), and “The Rover” off 2018’s Marauder (QRO review), Interpol brought to sonic surety Rick Riordan’s statement that New York lets you, “Pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.” It is perhaps this seen-it-all shrug at both the satanic and the seraphic that best summarizes what always made Interpol so irresistible and likewise serves to deepen their relevance with every new release in a time now dedicated to performative outrage as a means of faux-moral expression.
No one had to wait for closer “PDA”, the band’s first single ever, to fully embrace the effulgent fact that this is still the Interpol of yore, full of the kind of “wild promise” Fitzgerald was talking about when he described the sight of New York from the Queensboro Bridge in The Great Gatsby. Whatever is twanging and buzzing in Interpol’s rufescent rock is still a wine-drunk and velveteen thing, full to the brim with the decadent and doom-inflected ekphrastic poetry of Luna Lounge and Dark Room back in the good ol’ deviant día. Nothing has changed about their blushfire, only the number of venues and locales where it is allowed to deeply dragon-breathe.
In these our dubious days, of this you can still be sure and certain: New York never cows and never commits easily to any permanent contracts. Those to whom she grants investiture are ever the good-grime kind of secular caliphs who lord with a denuded cool and bear a detached ability to strike creativity-carroms beyond count. New York does not tolerate entitlement, fools, failure, or soft sentiments either – and this is the mythological maison de plaisance/asphalt wharf where living underground never leads to leucism but rather to a special kind of spotlight suntan, the sort that Interpol continues to wear like screen-memory scented with Saint Julep. Thank the gods from Leto to Lupercus that there is still a band like this. Ultra-urban underworldlings and everyone else should make Interpol’s The Other Side of Make-Believe tour their Next Exit – because when you do, you ain’t going to the town, you’re going to the city, grit-baby.
6. Into The Night
7. Pioneer to the Falls
8. Obstacle 1
9. Mr. Credit
10. All the Rage Back Home
11. Rest My Chemistry
12. The Rover
13. Gran Hotel
14. The New
15. Slow Hands
17. Leif Erickson
18. Not Even Jail