Interpol Lights Up San Diego

Photo Courtesy of Jelle Wagenaar

Rumors of Interpol’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. I quickly realized this after watching their performance at Soma San Diego last Thursday. Heading southbound on the 5 freeway that night in anticipation of the show, I had resigned myself to the belief that this may be Interpol’s swan song to Southern California. Their self-titled fourth album, which was released in September, has not been tearing up the charts. To add insult to injury, the band’s eerie yet finely dressed and formidable bassist, Carlos Dengler, quit upon the album’s completion. To an outsider like myself, the band appeared to be coming apart at the seams.

Due to the Lakers’ preseason game at the adjacent San Diego Sports Arena, traffic was overwhelming and parking was hard to find. For those who have never been to Soma: you aren’t missing much. The venue is discreetly nestled between a Mixed Martial Arts and Jiu-Jitsu training facility, and the building itself is nothing more than a giant black box. Ventilation was clearly not a part of the architect’s blueprint, and the restroom facilities resemble a pig trough. If you aren’t at Soma for the music, there really is no reason to be within 100 yards of the place – which admittedly adds to the venue’s charm.

The opening act was Brooklyn’s White Rabbits, a band best described as the illegitimate child of the Arctic Monkeys and Coldplay. Needless to say, this is one child I wish had been quickly aborted. I had a bad feeling when I mistook the drummer for Larry David, but after adjusting my spectacles it became clear he was just a nondescript bald guy. The rhythm guitarist and the keyboardist shared the vocal duties, yet they both seemed to be doing their best Brendon Urie impression (not a compliment). The most excitement I received during their performance was when I mistakenly believed they were finished because the guitarist had removed his Fender. To my dismay, he was merely switching guitars, and the show went on.

Despite White Rabbit’s best efforts to make my high come down, I was still chipper knowing Interpol was only moments away. And they did not disappoint.

Opening with the slow churning “Success” and quickly following up with the sexy and ever-popular “Narc,” the show was off to an excellent start. Paul Banks’ sinister, monotone delivery was as crisp as ever while carrying “Rest My Chemistry,” their song closest to a slow jam (and the evil twin of the Pixies’ “Where is my Mind?”). The loan bright-spots on their latest release, “Barricade,” and “Lights” ended up being the strongest performances of the night. “Barricade” is a cheeky up-tempo number that allowed strutting guitarist Daniel Kessler to shred a little more than he is accustomed to. The song’s true star was the nameless gremlin behind the keyboard, whose shrieking of the chorus “to keep us away!” was a welcome addition.

On the brooding “Lights,” Sam Fogarino’s pulsating drumbeat, combined with Kessler’s relentlessly growing riff, found a way to make the song even creepier than the “Eyes Wide Shut”-esque music video. The band blitzed through crowd-favorites “Slow Hands” and “Not Even Jail” at an electric pace. The inevitable encore came to a close with a vintage rendition of “Obstacle 1,” complete with the black-adorned Banks ominously serenading the crowd, singing “it’s different now that I’m poor and aging, I’ll never see this place again.”

For all that uncertainty lingering around Interpol, their San Diego set was exceedingly well-oiled, and the drop-off from Dengler to the scab bass player was not as glaring as one would think (the fill-in bassist seemed so focused on getting his chords right that he didn’t move more than two feet the whole evening). If this was their final curtain call, it was a quality send-off.  Interpol is the rare band that can walk the tightrope of keeping their post-punk hipness even while being periodically played on the ultimate sell-out station that is KROQ. For now I’ll optimistically consider this a “see you later” instead of a “goodbye.”