January 30, 2003

Turn On the Amps

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By Ed Howard

Photos by jess wolkoff

In what was clearly the biggest event that Cornell’s indie concert promoters in the Fanclub Collective have arranged, the group brought New York City’s Interpol to Cornell on Saturday, January 18. Interpol, who have been gaining rotation on MTV2 for their single “PDA,” made quite a stir last year with their incredible debut album Turn On the Bright Lights (named as online music mag Pitchfork’s album of the year). Earning comparisons to Joy Division and other ’80s purveyors of intense, gloomy rock, the band has been lauded from practically every corner, sweeping through the indie world and inching towards broader mainstream popularity.

Considering the relatively high profile of Interpol, it was quite a coup to bring them to Cornell, especially considering that it was the only college date they’re playing on their current U.S. tour. Fans responded by showing up for the concert en masse. The three hundred tickets were sold in the weeks before the show, and the lines at the door to get the remaining tickets started hours before the venue opened. In fact, more tickets were sold than had been planned for, and still people were turned away; there were even reports of scalpers.

As literally hundreds of people filed into the large performance space at Appel Commons on North Campus, local band The Horns began playing their opening set in the back of the room. Playing with a stripped-down acoustic arrangement, the band impressed the growing audience with their impassioned performance. Trading off male and female vocals, the trio charged through a high-energy set, with the drummer leaving his kit on a few songs to play accordion; an odd instrument for a band like this, it nevertheless fit well into their overall sound.

Following their set, the room began filling even more rapidly, and by the time Calla took the stage, there was hardly room to move. Calla is a Brooklyn-by-way-of-Texas three-piece who have gained some recognition lately for their split EP with fellow NYC outfit The Walkmen, and for their own 2001 album Scavengers. The group’s live sound, which is apparently much rawer than their heavily manipulated studio work, was minimal and primitive, each song rich in textures that slowly ebbed and flowed over the (generally pretty long) course of each cut. The band’s sound — something like indie-pop mixed with raw punk and avant looseness — made a nice counterpoint to Interpol’s downbeat rock, and Calla’s set earned good reactions from the already-huge crowd.

But by the time Interpol actually took the stage, following a short acoustic set by local singer-songwriter Dan Meyler, the room had reached (and likely exceeded) its capacity. The band, all neatly dressed in their characteristic suits, took the stage calmly and turned out a set of jaw-dropping beauty, managing even to top their recorded material. Live, the band’s songs lost a bit of the downbeat fog on Turn on the Bright Lights, replacing it with a powerful energy driven along by their thick rhythms.

The group played most of their debut, plus one song from an early out-of-print single. The crowd certainly made up for the band’s stoic image, though, keeping the room loud throughout the set. Nobody moved much — not that there was any room for it even if it hadn’t been a “doing the standing still” kind of crowd — but there was clearly an energy running through the whole space as Interpol laid down one incredible song after another. Fan favorite “NYC” and first single “PDA” earned the biggest cheers, but most of the audience seemed to know the whole album. They didn’t necessarily know the names, though, as one fan demonstrated by calling out for “the one about the braids,” and another by requesting “track seven” (both being the same song). Singer Paul Banks laughed and responded with “the one about the braids is ‘Obstacle 2,'” before launching into a lovely version of the ballad “Hands Away.”

After ending the night with an encore including “Obstacle 2,” the crowd slowly (very slowly) filtered out of the packed space, satisfied that they’d seen a stellar show from one of our time’s great up-and-coming bands. Interpol’s debut may have hinted at a lot of potential and promise, but to witness their live show is to see the fruition of that promise. Many thanks to the Fanclub Collective for bringing yet another great band to campus; visit their website http://www.rso.cornell.edu/fanclub to see what other concerts they have planned for the rest of the semester, including Five Second Flat (a side-project of Kilowatthours) on February 22, Pinback on March 27, and Deerhoof on April 27.

Archived article by Ed Howard