Interpol guitarist Daniel Kessler walked to work last night. Work being his critically-acclaimed band’s first headlining appearance at Madison Square Garden. But you’d never know he was about to take on such a task with the breezy, confident air with which he carried himself; already suited-up and ready to go. As he crossed Penn Plaza and strode towards the media entrance of the Garden, fewer than five people recognized him, other than those with whom he entered the building.

That must be quite something. To play the Big Room in your hometown, on the heels of a phenomenal new record, Our Love to Admire, and still go unnoticed in front of the very people who have shown up to see you.

And last night was certainly all about the band and its adoring, devoted audience eyeballing each other. For a night, the World’s Most Famous Arena became Interpol’s Biggest Group Hug. If you were there, you already know this. Most likely you were part of the loving camaraderie. The band knew it, too. They needed to feel it, and did. Of the three big bands that have been booked at the Garden in recent months – the White Stripes, Muse and Interpol – our local quartet in black, as guarded as they may be, were the ones most loudly mooted to not sell-out the Big Room. And, they didn’t. Who cares? Not all shows should be about the Numbers Game. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s about the music and the tremendous band making it.

And Interpol, well, they have, over just three albums since 2002’s Turn on the Bright Lights, more than proven themselves time and again. Last night they used the Garden’s largeness against itself, filling the people in attendance, the empty upper bowl seats, the cynics, the squealing little girls, the dancing frat guys and even themselves with a dignified, remarkable power. The arena became a haven of atmosphere; of dirty New York streets, anecdotes of city life, nighttime, grimy subway trains and platforms, rain, and well-worn soul.

All of this can seem a bit overly serious, of course, and so naturally, or perhaps not, Interpol suffered a Spinal Tap moment at the zenith of their grand reveal; a white screen was to drop during the climax of “Pioneer to the Falls,” but instead did not until after the second song, “Obstacle 1.” Cue the fans gesturing madly, screaming “pull the screen down!” Kessler asking roadies what the deal was, and famously reticent frontman Paul Banks briefly stopping the show to address the problem, stating to everyone’s delight, “We’re going to take a little break while they remove the fucking curtain so we can see you.” Visual prop mishap aside, it never took away from the magnificent power of “Pioneer” or the excitement of the old and beloved latter tune.

Expertly mixing old favorites like “C’mere,” “NARC” and a brilliant, ridiculously manic “Say Hello to the Angels” with note-perfect presentations of newbies “Pace is the Trick” and new single “Mammoth,” Interpol acquitted itself immediately of fears the venue would swallow them. The sound simply grew bigger, taking on new characteristics, heights, nuances and weight. Even Banks’ voice, though nasal at times, was rich, aristocratic and controlled. Crazy Legs Kessler shuffled back and forth, commandeering his area, drummer Sam Fogarino pummeled his kit and even the enigmatic Carlos D. smiled, swayed and looked every inch the mustached, well-dressed rock star. Mr. Denglar would even blow kisses to fans at the end of the night.

Longtime fans were thrilled to hear “Hands Away,” but overwhelmingly showed their appreciation during Our Love track “No I in Threesome,” supporting Banks as he crooned, “Through storms and the light, baby you stood by my side” as though the tune was as old as the band itself. “Slow Hands” was punchy and luminous with twinkly pink lights, but that was no match for the one-two punch of “Rest My Chemistry” and its subdued magic and “The Heinrich Maneuver” with its bright orange lights and dancing appeal.

A crowd sing-a-long accompanied the wonderfully jumpy “Evil,” and handclapping, jubilant hands and undeniable love closed out the main set with “Not Even Jail.”

For the encores, Interpol took it down a notch, but when Kessler started his famous guitar intro to “NYC” the stage was bathed in blue, and the local crowd was moved to tears in acknowledgement. Old favorite “PDA” was a big moment, however, with thumpy drums from Fogarino, house lights turned way up, allowing the band to finally survey their rapturous fans; Banks looked overwhelmed at the hometown support. He must’ve known then that the night was a success.

The final song of the night, a rare and utterly gorgeous “Untitled,” found Kessler taking to the stage by himself, with each band member slowly following suit. The emotionally, physically exhausted crowd caught off guard by the inclusion of this little gem, raised up those hands, reaching into the heavy atmosphere as Banks informed us all, “I will surprise you sometime, I’ll come around.” A perfect ending note for a tour de force night in a Big Room and city that can be very unkind.

I do, however, want to take a moment to state that while I feel the evening was a success, when a band such as Interpol plays a venue like the Garden, the show becomes more about the venue and less about the band. This is to say nothing about the bigness and brilliance of the band’s sound, but they should perhaps take a page out of the Strokes’ tour book and on the next local go-round, tackle Hammerstein for a three-night run; get back to confronting the audience at close range. Dive back into some true eyeballing, marinate in the innate aggression and sexuality of the tunes, and step away from big rooms where it all seems more distant than necessary.

But as someone who has seen Interpol from the very beginning over the years, from small clubs in Central Florida and now the Garden, it’s certainly no surprise to me that they pulled it all off with style, panache, mystery and beauty. Just like they do everything else. Next time, though, I look forward to it just being about a band that I love and less about space, numbers and challenges.

Cat Power with Dirty Delta Blues and Liars opened.

–-Carrie Alison, Photos by Carrie Alison

  1. I couldn’t agree more with what was discussed. Thank you.


  2. some of my friends don´t belive interpol can pack the madison, but they do! and the show was awesome, one of the best of year for me. and most important: the band do not succumb to the place and do a gig as they used to do at the bowery or in some small venues []s tom

    *i write a post about the concert in my blog and use one photo of you, alison. no problem? thanks…