Interpol: Royal Albert Hall, London – live review
Interpol’s Marauder Tour arrived in London with two dates at Royal Albert Hall. Louder Than War’s Andy Duke reviews and contemplates da Vinci’s Last Supper.
With one of Depeche Mode darker offerings blasting from this iconic venue’s PA, the capacity crowd awaits in eager anticipation of Interpol’s arrival. I often wonder how much of the pre-show music is chosen by the featured band or not. With their Essex roots and baritone vocals, it would make sense that the Clacton-on-Sea-born figurehead of Interpol might opt for Basildon’s finest on the playlist. If not, Dave Gahan & Co. successfully manage to set the right mood for the NYC-based quintet’s gig in any case.
Beneath blue lights, guitarist Daniel Kessler kicks off Untitled’s haunting intro on his cherry red Epiphone Casino. Despite the size of the venue, I find it reassuring that the London-born guitarist is plugged into a tiny Fender combo amp. Despite this diminutive choice in amplification, Kessler’s guitar sound is anything but small. Sam Fogarino’s drums join in with an even greater authority than on record and form a tight rhythm section with touring bassist Brad Truax. While the track continues to build, Brandon Curtis’s keyboards provide an ethereal layer to the proceedings as Paul Banks maintains a static and statuesque presence until his vocals cut through the dense mix with the arrival of the first verse. The dapper band, all dressed in black, ooze confidence and control with Banks’s vocals powerfully taking centre stage. In his earlier incarnation, Banks would normally be seen clutching a cigarette and offering a more strained delivery. Time and, perhaps, fewer onstage fags have enabled a richer and more strident vocal sound from the band’s frontman and the audience are loving it.
The pace picks up with C’mere before the group showcase the excellent If You Really Love Nothing off their latest album Marauder. With Fogarino’s tom toms in the driving seat alongside Kessler’s deftly delivered arpeggios and disco ball lighting – there’s no danger of deviating the audience’s attention with newer material. As a precaution, however, the band’s set sandwiches more recent offerings in between old audience favourites. The balance works extremely well and the group effectively cherry pick their most engaging live tracks from across their 16-year career since signing to Matador Records. While Evil, Slow Hands, NYC, PDA and Public Pervert get the biggest reactions from the crowd and are emotively performed – NYSMAW, The Rover, Complications and Flight Of Fancy off the new album deservedly belong in the ‘future favourites’ category. Rather than merely being a vehicle to build a world tour around, Interpol are clearly committed to their sumptuous new album and it shows. From Kessler’s crouching down to his knees, a la Chuck Berry, on The Rover to Banks summoning his inner Robert Smith during his guitar solo for Flight of Fancy – Marauder is clearly a labour of love for the band. And a definite grower for long-standing fans who may have lost interest in the band’s output after Antics.
Interpol are a tight and dynamic proposition live and their sonic signature is distinctive and decidedly intact. Although eight years have passed since original bassist Carlos Dengler left the fold, one is reminded of how bands like REM struggled to recapture the magic after a key member departed the family. Band chemistry, ultimately, is difficult to recreate when new members are brought in no matter how skilled they are. It speaks volumes that a full-time bassist hasn’t been recruited for Interpol since Carlos decided to pursue thespian interests in 2010. This has parallels with drummer Bill Berry’s departure from REM who, similarly, worked with touring and session musicians to fill the void rather than recruit a full-time skin basher. Brad Truax is a fine addition to Interpol’s live sound and provides a solid and meaty low-end to the group while Banks takes on bass duties in the recording studio. Brandon Curtis’s keyboards and backing vocals have also become an integral part of Interpol’s live arsenal. It makes for a different musical chemistry but one that is still very much Interpol. But, still, Interpol with a difference. It brings to mind The Last Supper by da Vinci – a work that has been restored countless times and subjected to untold damage over the years. Despite layers of paint having been scraped and replaced – The Last Supper is still ‘The Last Supper’ and remains a masterpiece. And, regardless of the personnel changes and additions within Interpol – the band’s magic is in no sign of waning. Either live or on recording.
All words by Andy Duke. Andy Duke is a London based raconteur, musician, writer, collector of soda syphons and the man behind The Dukey Radio Show podcast.