Hammerstein Ballroom

With Rajeev off to Des Moines, it's up to me to tell you all about Friday's Interpol show at the Hammerstein Ballroom. I'm sure you are waiting with baited breath to know all about this one.

First off, some background. This is the fourth time I've seen Interpol live. I first saw them just after the release of their debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights. It was a industry-heavy show at the Bowery Ballroom and at this point the buzz was just beginning - I don't think the show was even sold out. I came away very impressed. The band was tight, melodic and while not quite completely confident on stage, they took command of the jaded audience and displayed amazing potential. Their music was serious, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves, laughing and joking with each other and the audience.

Jump forward to Friday night. Now too big for the Bowery or Irving Plaza, Interpol was playing its second sold out show at Hammerstein. Scalpers were hawking tickets for ridiculous sums - I heard one couple buying a pair for $250! Bright Lights has sold nearly 300,000 copies in the US and Antics debuted at 15 in Billboard's album charts. Their success is deserved, but it puts them in a searing spotlight of high expectations and critic analysis. Will they be revealed as pretenders or contenders?

After Friday's show, I'm left feeling like they're a bit of each. There were moments of brilliance - such as the "but hey who's on trial" moment in "Evil" or the way the intro to "Say Hello to the Angels" always gets me dancing. Then there are some just flat out annoying aspects that overwhelm the positive.

First, they played only for an hour. I can understand a short set when you have only one album, but Interpol has enough material now to at least put in a 90 minute show. One hour does not justify paying over $30 for a ticket and $8 for a Corona.

More importantly, you would expect that after constant touring, the older material would have changed from their album versions. No, Interpol still play them note for note, which is fine if it's your first time hearing them, but a bit underwhelming otherwise.

Interpol's popularity has grown for a reason - they write and perform intelligent, beguiling songs that connect physically and emotionally. A song like "Roland" or "Slow Hands" gets a crowd moving with hyper rhythm and menacing attitude. They can also create moments of icicle beauty - like the dark climatic finishes of "NYC" or "PDA."

Look too closely, though and you may discover a lack of real meaning and a paucity of originality that may ultimately limit their future.

It's common knowledge now that Paul Banks's lyrics are laughingly meaningless. At best, they are evocative and fit well with the music. At their worst, they are distracting and pretentious. To paraphrase Morrissey, the lyrics say nothing to me about my life, or anyone else. They probably only make sense to the author.

Lastly, I have serious doubts about Interpol's ability to progress their sound beyond its current bounds. Only another album will tell if they can shake off their influences and rise above derivativeness. The signs aren't good, but I'm willing to give them a chance. I'm not willing to pay $30 for another show until then.