Concert Review: Interpol & Calla (January 15, 2003, Omaha, NE)

It seems like anyone with any amount of indie cred these days is singing the praises of Interpol, the latest thing to emerge from New York. Although much debate has taken place over their originality (or lack thereof), or just how much vocalist Paul Banks sounds like Ian Curtis (or any early ’80s post punk vocalist for that matter), it hasn’t prevented the band from occupying THE indie spotlight for much of the past year.

Personally, I’m stuck in the middle. I certainly thought Turn on the Bright Lights was a fine album, one that grew on me quite a bit towards the end of 2002. But for some reason, it never blew me away like it did to so many others (at least, not initially — I’ve had to warm up to it). However, it’s easy to understand its impact.

Interpol crafts tightly woven dark pop, taking in all sorts of influences (Joy Division, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, David Bowie) and crafting songs that never sound too derivative. There’s just enough to let you know where they’re coming from, but it’s clear the band is honestly trying to put their own spin on things. Of course, they’re not first to accomplish the feat — Scientific did it a few years ago — but Interpol seems to have garnered the spotlight all for themselves.

However, the disc does raise some concern. I can easily see Interpol unwittingly work themselves into a rut. It would be all too easy to churn out five more iterations of Turn on the Bright Lights instead of displaying the same risk-taking that their influences had. It’s a sound they’re very comfortable with, as is obvious from the album’s precise execution. But it’s possible to become so comfortable so as to become monotonous, and that was the main concern I had going into the show. I’d heard that Interpol had a riveting stage presence, but how much of that impression was due to simple fandom?

Opening for Interpol was Calla, yet another from the long (and always growing) list of “Bands That I Promise To Check Out When I Have More Time.” Now, I was pretty sure I’d heard one or two of Calla’s songs in the past, but I must have been mistaken. I was expecting something a little more refined, even orchestral, along the lines of L’Altra or Pinetop Seven. Instead, what I got blew me away. It had been a long time since I’d seen a show at the ol’ Sokol, so my ears had lost some of their tolerance for volume. Calla used that to their great advantage, crafting a sound laced with so much beautiful feedback and noise that the Reid Brothers are probably looking into litigation as I type this.

Unlike some bands that hide behind their effects pedals and walls of noise, Calla tries to bludgeon and suffocate you with them. Although their sounds were often quite beautiful, there was a dangerous edge to them, a sort of recklessness and grit that enhanced everything. Anchoring it was a solid rhythm session; especially the snakelike basslines that would lock into a death spiral as the guitars bled sonic debris from every pore. Aurelio Valle’s voice was a perfect match for the music, his sneers and groans a mix of the aforementioned Reid Brothers, Jeff Buckley, and Nick Cave.

When Interpol took the stage, I couldn’t help but immediately notice the contrast. Whereas Calla looked rather sketchy (especially Valle), Interpol were dressed to the nines. Everything, from the way they held their guitars to the way the bassist’s hair flopped when he look from side to side, seemed engineered with Swiss precision. Unfortunately, their sound never quite came close to mirroring that.

Of course, they were plagued with some difficulties, starting with a horrible mix. The emphasis was clearly on the bass and drums, which drowned out two of Interpol’s greatest assets: Paul Banks’ detached vocals and the tight interplay between Banks’ and Daniel Kessler’s guitars. When the bass came in during “Hands Away” (my fave track from the album), it completely overwhelmed the taut, nervous atmosphere that had been building until then. Making matters worse, the bass cut out at the finale of “Say Hello to the Angels,” right when it’s needed most.

As such, Interpol never seemed to hit their groove until later in the show. The set’s final songs, especially their two encore numbers, finally locked into the precision that is integral to their sound. But by that time, the show was already over. Again, I couldn’t help thinking back to previous band.

Calla’s ragged sound was everything I had loved about their set. But listening to Interpol, I wanted a band so tight I could set my watch to it. That’s where much of their appeal lies. If nothing else, the show did cause me to appreciate Turn on the Bright Lights more. In fact, I’m listening to it as I type this, and my fondness for the album does seem to grow each time it’s in the stereo. Even if Interpol never escapes the sound that they’ve created for themselves, they’ll have at least one stellar album to show for it.

As for Calla, I intend to take them off my list as soon as possible, if only to see if their albums are as impressive as their performance Wednesday night.

Read more about Calla, Concert Review, and Interpol.
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