There’s a small pantheon of albums that thirty-something New Yorkers who spent nights at the once-musically thriving Lower East Side point to and go, “Ah, this is real New York. You had to be there.” Interpol’s debut album Turn on the Bright Lights is the one that turned 15 this year. The core trio have been performing the album in full these past few weeks and finally took the tour stateside with two shows in New York: a Friday gig in Bowery Ballroom, a venue that doubles as one of turn-of-the-century Manhattan’s last remaining musical mementos, and another Saturday show in suburban Queens’ Forest Hills Stadium.
Turn on the Bright Lights remains one of the era’s more divisive classics—peculiarly so, since its criticized qualities are also the source of its praise. Opinions tend to calcify with time, however, especially when divorcing an album from a context it’s so closely tied to. To some, Interpol are nothing more than the sum of their post-punk influences, but those gothic textures expressed the sense of an alienation and vulnerability that felt specific to a post-9/11 New York. The line about sleeping on “200 couches” on “PDA” initially felt like literary commentary on the violence New York’s vastness wreaks on interpersonal connection—in 2017, when everyone and their nephew has blogged about feeling lonely in New York, it no longer seems as unique. Combine that with Paul Banks’ Ian Curtis cosplay vocals, and it’s more likely that you’ve already picked your side of the fence.
The Forest Hills performance didn’t have any of the pretension and self-importance one expects from a major anniversary performance. About a half hour after opener Deerhunter’s set, Interpol—plus their touring mates bassist Brad Truax and keyboardist Brandon Curtis—walked onto the red-lit stage without introduction and went straight into the reverb-soaked plucks of album-opener “Untitled.” They pummeled through Turn on the Bright Lights with stoic verve: Interpol’s guitar work and Banks’ vocals felt staid during the opening songs, and it took them until a little before the album’s midway point to hit a convincing, full-throttle stride. “PDA” didn’t quite have its teeth, but the performance fully compelled by the time of “Obstacle 2,” where Banks didn’t even need to hit his closing falsetto because the audience was ready to fill it in. And yes, Daniel Kessler’s guitar howls as it needs to on the climax of “Leif Erikson,” Bright Lights’ closer.
This was a sentimental occasion for an album wrought with sentimentality, yet Banks was content with containing the emotions with the songs. In these past 15 years, Banks has been the loudest one out of the group, releasing two solo albums and two rap projects (including 2013’s Everybody on My Dick Like They Supposed to Be). At Forest Hills, he kept the reminiscing to himself and didn’t converse much with the audience outside of gentlemanly thank yous and bandmate shoutouts.
Elderman and drummer Sam Fogarino carried most of the set’s furor while Kessler was the most mobile of the gang, strolling from his stage-right position and boyishly riling the crowd with some claps. But there really wasn’t much riling up to be done. LCD Soundsystem’s Madison Square Garden not-final performance in 2011 served as the New York revival’s de facto endpoint. Everything since then has felt like a protracted epilogue, with sporadic fireworks (alums Grizzly Bear’s Shields, LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream come to mind) appearing with diminishing returns. Interpol are also well past their peak, but for as many pejoratives they’ve been hit with throughout the years, they do carry a sense of revere that’s more familial than sacrosanct. While nostalgia was a clear subtext, attendees didn’t emote like they’d re-experienced a memory. There was a distant fondness that resonated through the stadium, even through the “I think you’re looking alright tonight…” refrain, just a few decibels below raucousness.
Interpol closed the set with the frosty album leftover “Specialist” and did “Not Even Jail,” “Slow Hands,” “Lights,” and “All the Rage Back Home.” The momentum dipped a bit when they launched into “Lights”—a decent song off their worst album—and the encore run got cut by suburban Queens’ strict 10 p.m. curfew (“The Heinrich Maneuver” and “Evil” ended their Bowery Ballroom show). The night’s climax happened well before the truncated encore, though, when Interpol extended Turn on the Bright Lights’ blistering antepenultimate track “Roland” with a high-velocity coda. The band were silhouettes for most of the concert but here, the white lights behind them intensified and widened, subsuming the five shapes.