Interpol was going to be the perfect gig. Having just emerged from a ten-year relationship with the battle-wounds yet to heal, I was ready for an onslaught of doom-ridden gloom-rock, and few bands do it better. I threw on as much black as I could find in my wardrobe, collected a posse of like-minded doomsters, and headed down to the Hordern for a night of wrist-slashingly bleak entertainment.
I was disappointed: the night was not to be as dark as expected. There has been something of a demographic shift in Interpol’s audience since they last visited Sydney. Whereas 2005 saw the prevalence of post-Goth black lace and even blacker eyeliner, 2008 witnessed the introduction of corporate Goth (black suit and a Tool t-shirt) and slim-fit flannel shirts, as grunge-chic made its long-awaited reappearance. If someone had told me in the mid-’90s that flannel would make a comeback little more than a decade down the track—only tailored—I’d have cut them up with a cracked copy of Bleach. But here we were in 2008, no longer able to deny the evidence.
21 Feb 2008: The Hordern Sydney, AUS
Exhibit A: A couple standing next to us spent most of the evening pulling vastly inappropriate Britney and JT-style dance moves, complete with booty-shimmy, through tracks like “PDA” and “The Heinrich Manoeuvre”. Nothing could have been more disconcerting than glancing around at an Interpol gig, only to see a couple who could have belonged on So You Think You Can Dance. Little is less conducive to maintaining an atmosphere of overwrought self-pity.
Exhibit B: Perplexingly, the crowd began to clap along to the drum-bereft intro of “Untitled”, which resulted in the song losing all of its ambling charm as the band fell into a metronomic performance. In fact, the entire show seemed far too regimented, certainly more mechanical than during their previous visit. Perhaps this is simply the price a band pays for entering “stadium” territory, but I couldn’t help feeling let down.
At times I struggled even to maintain interest, primarily because every second track was from (the frankly awful) Our Love to Admire. Providing an exception to this rule was the band’s tilt at “No I In Threesome”, a song I had previously considered laughable due to its brash crudity, but which proved itself worthy through the test of live performance. Somehow, in the flesh, Paul Banks gave the lines “Maybe it’s time we give something new a try/ although we may cry” an air of respectability that managed to shake off any image of that guy down at the park with the oversized trenchcoat.
Reading back over the last few paragraphs, I fear I am being unfair—maybe I’m holding this band up to some seriously unrealistic expectations. But what can you expect when you produce two supreme masterpieces, then lay Our Love to Admire on the world like a particularly steaming turd? Of course, almost all of the old favourites made an appearance, but even then something seemed not quite right. I wondered if huge piles of money and even huger piles of cocaine had eaten away at the band’s will to perform. (This theory is supported by Carlos D’s blinding display of arrogance when interviewed on Australia’s national youth broadcaster, Triple J.)
Despite a misguided fan base, a shitty third album, and an unbearably self-important bass player, Interpol remain a compelling band to behold. The awesome power of their first two albums combined is enough to keep any show afloat. But when so much of these albums is left out, it’s no wonder the night felt like an exercise in propping up sales of their third album by churning out the hits from the first two. Having seen Sonic Youth tear through Daydream Nation at their Don’t Look Back show only a few nights before, I couldn’t help but fantasize that Interpol might have brought Turn On the Bright Lights in its entirety to devastating life.
After the show’s end, we stood around a while, trying to look as disaffected as possible while hiding the band shirt we’d just bought as best we could. My ex loomed from out of the crowd, and we spent a while talking awkwardly with our mutual friends about how great the band were, despite the obvious shortcomings. We compared favourite moments, closely examined every aspect of the show, and mercilessly dissected the audience. We struggled to define exactly what it is that makes Interpol so relevant for us still, despite all current signs to the contrary, but it wasn’t until later that night that I realised the answer.
And lying alone in my room, with nothing but darkness and the endlessly looped “Untitled” to keep me company, I wallowed in the glorious misery of it all.