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Interpol - Shepherd's Bush Empire, 24 June 2003

With Turn on the Bright Lights now firmly established as a flawless, stone cold classic, Interpol boomed into town on a hot, humid evening for their first UK date in 3 months. We are well into festival season and the Shepherd's Bush date served as a warm-up before televised performances at Glastonbury and Roskilde. The momentum is building for Interpol: early tracks are going for small fortunes on E-bay and gigs in increasingly large venues are selling out - all we need now is a hit single. That will be the test for the lead track from the next album.

But for now it is enough that the Empire is full and excitable. The Interpol crowd is interesting: there are a fair few young shavers taking their lead from the band in modish shirts and ties, a goodly smattering of chic, brunette lookers; then moving up the age range a few raddled survivors from the early 80s sporting Unknown Pleasures t-shirts beneath battle-hardened leathers.

The band take to the stage to the traditional gig opener, Untitled. The sound is large; stately and glacial. Untitled was on the soundtrack to a recent Friends episode, but a better visual would be icebergs crashing into a blue ocean. Interpol's slower songs are towering epics, they do not invite intimacy and ask to be admired from a distance.

The single, Say Hello to the Angels, is next and here Interpol suddenly blaze red hot. Staccato guitar riffing in the verse gets the crowd moving before the pace quickens alarmingly for the chorus and Banks's vocals (and God you can imagine Ian Curtis singing this song) mirror the jagged intensity of the music. But, the lazy Joy Division comparisons falter: that band never carried the melody through the guitars like this, nor were their rhythms this unorthodox.

The strange and powerful Stella follows and here the band seem to be mining for uranium. There is a subterranean, deathly glow to the song, something desperately broken with the love described. Banks sounds baffled and vulnerable. This is Interpol at their most intense, but it's an intensity that attracts rather than repels: you can get closer if you wish, if you dare...

The band have gained in confidence from the Astoria gig and are beginning to forge a distinctive stage presence. Bassist Carlos D has clearly been spending some time in front of a mirror and has his moves well rehearsed, blowing out huge clouds of cigarette smoke. Kessler, on guitar, has extended his sideburns alarmingly, but no longer has the rabbit-in-the-headlights fear that he used to, to the extent of venturing onto the drum riser during PDA. Banks is just plain cool. They could do with a better light show, though. The most ambitious this gets is a tacky spotlight onto a mirrorball during NYC - it takes all of that song's imperious majesty to pull it off.

Two new songs are played, Length of Love and Strangers in the Night. Both are highly melodic and seem to smooth out some of the edginess - musically and lyrically - of the album. Strangers, with its main hook, "It should have been me / but you're in love with someone else" is amazingly straight when compared with the complexity in Stella or Lief Erikson.

There are two encores. For the first, the excellent early B side, Specialist is given an apparently rare airing. And the night closes as the album closes, with Leif Erikson and The New, two grand heartbreakers, transcribing flawed relationships ("Baby, you know someday you'll slow / and Baby, my heart's been breaking" - I don't know who that song's about but that fast girl, she's trouble Banks), but muddling through somehow, particularly in the uplifting climax to Lief ("You come here to me / We'll collect those lonely parts and set them down / You come here to me...").

I love Interpol. I love the way they swing from am imposing coldness to a confused humanity. I love the electricity in their music. I love the way they sound like the band every other band were trying, and failing, to be.

Chris Sampson, 1 July 03


Picture, Paul Banks at Roskilde