Should we expect more than 18 songs and 80 minutes from a band nearly two decades into its career?
Keller Auditorium, Portland, OR
The knock against Interpol is one of diminishing returns. The band arrives, fully formed, in 2002 with a sweeping update on post-punk. Debut record Turn on the Bright Lights earned raves from both upstart web magazines. Soon, Interpol found itself opening for bands like U2 and the Cure, exposing the music to an even wider audience. After a well-received sophomore album, the band soldiered on, putting out record after record of samey music that never scaled the same heights of its legendary debut. After a brief jump to a major label in 2007, Interpol returned to Matador and released sixth album Marauder last year.
Yet, Interpol circa 2019 is still able to fill a room such as the nearly-3,000 seat Keller Auditorium. There are enough of us aging hipsters in Portland to find an excuse to slick our hair back, toss on black clothing and remember the formative days of the cool that permeated from New York City in the early ‘00s, a time that featured a soundtrack by the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend and LCD Soundsystem.
And it is likely that members of Interpol know who is there to see them. The setlist was split evenly: five songs from Turn on the Bright Lights, six from Antics, five from Marauder (there are records to sell, you know) and two from Our Love to Admire including opener “Pioneer to the Falls.” Over the 80 minute, 18-song set, the members of Interpol moved from one song after another in near stillness save Daniel Kessler’s occasional guitar heroics. Singer Paul Banks, hair slicked back and clad in a dark suit, barely stepped away from the microphone, his voice reedier and less deliberate than on record.
The crowd in the orchestra stood through the entire performance, cheering with appreciation when “Roland” marked the first of the Bright Lights songs. Three giant disco balls, two to the side and one above the band, frequently filled the room with strobing lights. Yet, how strange to see a band like Interpol confined to the auspices of an assigned seat. The music lends itself better to a dark club, a subterranean lair with a low ceiling rather than the grand auditorium where The Book of Mormon plays when it comes to town. But somehow, Interpol is too popular for that type of room these days.
Both songs from Our Love to Admire (“Pioneer to the Falls” and “Rest My Chemistry”) were among the stand-outs, along with favorites such as “The New” and “Evil.” Other songs didn’t fare as well: “NYC” could have been a big crowd pleaser but succumbed to the gauzy acoustics of the room while “Take You on a Cruise” was just flat out band.
Should we expect more than 18 songs and 80 minutes from a band nearly two decades into its career? The jury is out. Someone like Nick Cave usually plays the same number of songs. Meanwhile, the Smashing Pumpkins just mounted a tour with three and a half hour shows. By the time Interpol ended its three-song encore with “Obstacle 1” the audience seemed primed for more beloved songs, the ones that could transport them back to their youth and to a time when another Republican president lived in the White House. Some things may have changed, yet politics and Interpol grind on nearly unchanged.