The ‘Cool Factor’

There are many adjectives to describe Interpol, but just one will suffice: cool. A few months ago, Spin magazine named two members of the band among the 30 coolest people in rock. After Saturday’s sold-out show at the 9:30 Club, all the members of Interpol should be on that list. Forget The Strokes, forget The White Stripes. This New York quintet is the coolest band in music today.

Formed in 1998, Interpol – Paul Banks, guitar and vocals; Carlos D., bass; Daniel Kessler, guitar; Eric Altesleben, keyboards; and Sam Fogarino, drums – rode the wave of New York City’s rock resurgence out of its Brooklyn rehearsal studio. The band’s most recent album, 2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights, is a meld of symphonic guitars and metaphoric lyrics. The band has found major success in Europe and has a strong indie following in the United States.

The 9:30 Club show was one of the last stops on the band’s North American tour. Despite being on the road for almost 18 months, Interpol’s second D.C. appearance this year proved to be one of the best concerts of 2003. The band was the very essence of cool, as was the audience.

Like the band’s multi-faceted music, each member of Interpol has a different performance style, but on stage, the band exhibits a unique bond.

With his nicotine-laced vocals, Banks appeared to be comfortable in the spotlight but often stepped away from the microphone between songs. He didn’t introduce any of the songs, except for the new tracks, and thanked other bands on the bill – The Occasion and Elefant.

Tall, pale, lanky bassist Carlos D. becomes the coolest person in the room once you strap a bass and shoulder holster on him. Like Banks, he comes alive during each song and mellows in between. The same goes for Fogarino, and a switch to natural lighting on stage between songs made this even more noticeable. Kessler and Altesleben were the two band members who seemed to really get into their own music. From his spot on stage, Kessler slid across the floor as if it had just been waxed, especially during some of Interpol’s more upbeat songs. With his tailored suit, pompadour hair and slick footwork, Kessler could be considered the New-Wave Elvis.

The set list featured songs from Turn on the Bright Lights including “NYC,” “Stella Was a Diver She was Always Down,” “Obstacle 1” and “PDA.” The band also performed a new song, “Length of Love,” and played “Specialist,” which is found on EPs and imports, during the encore.

Interpol is a staple on MTV2 and iPod playlists, and the crowd was well into their 20s and 30s. With the exception of an older man who had had too many shots of whatever he was drinking and was dancing badly for most of the show in the VIP area of the bar, the crowd was tame and rather dignified. There was no crowd surfing, no devil horns and no sing-alongs, but those aren’t to be expected at an Interpol show. The crowd was there to see Interpol; under the haze of the stage lights, hundreds of heads bobbed to the music and offered a few “woos.” Perhaps this is what happens when pretentious music snobs gather together.

With lyrics such as “the subway she is a porno/the pavements they are a mess” and “my best friend’s a butcher, he has sixteen knives/he carries them all over the town at least he tries/oh look it stopped snowing,” the only thing out of place during the concert was the occasional colored lights-and-stars background, which was a little too “American Idol” for Interpol, a band that proved on Friday night it is as cool as Spin magazine said it is.

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