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Call the police: Paul Banks of Interpol bares his soul at the Palace.

PHOTO: Joe Putrock

The New Art Rock

By John Brodeur

Interpol, Liars

Palace Theatre, Sept. 10

Blue lights bathe the stage. An ar rangement of LED panels and light strips backlight the performers. The drumbeat throbs under a delay-drenched guitar line. Behind all of this, a projected image of the earth rises on a screen. The singer intones, “The soul can wait, the soul can wait.” It’s all very pretty, and pretty meaningless.

It’s a tradition, tried and true—bands from the Monkees to the Sex Pistols have valued style over substance. But Interpol put such an emphasis on the former, with all their tailored suits and groomed facial hair, that it’s easy to overlook their music, which vacillates between moody, pulsating dirges and the dark-disco sound that was all the rage a few years back. That is to say, they pull the wool over in glorious fashion: In six short years, have grown from what may well have been a Joy Division tribute band to a fine and respectable entity with their own, however derivative, sonic stamp. They play the game masterfully, presenting both themselves and their music exactly how they want to, and the result—Monday night’s tour-launching Palace Theatre show, for instance—is the whole package.

Chalk one up for the hipoisie (a term we can put to bed now, thank you). Interpol have earned the success they so badly craved, on the back of a devoted following that bit its collective tongue rather than cry “sellout” when the band jumped to Capitol this year, and they’ve put it all to good use. That nifty major-label deal produced, I think, their best album to date (Our Love to Admire), and a rock show that made all the right moves.

That’s not to say Interpol are without their shortcomings. Better said, limitations: Singer-guitarist Paul Banks is a terribly uncharismatic frontman, and his range and tone are hampered by an obvious Ian Curtis fetish (hence all those pesky Joy Division references). But he does such an excellent job of seeming deep and sincere that, on songs like “PDA” (the “200 couches” song) and the cocaine come-down anthem “Rest My Chemistry,” it’s easy to look past his lack of character. It’s even easier to dwell on the band’s narcotic groove, which sounded exceptional on Monday night, bolstered by the pads and stabs of touring keyboardist Blasco. By the time the band got around to crowd favorite “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” for their encore, the crowd was rung out but ready for more.

And, need it be said, they looked real sharp.

Liars, the L.A.-based group responsible for a few of this decade’s most challenging recordings, opened with a set drawn from their various incarnations. They played primarily with a two-guitar-and-drum format, and guitarist Aaron Hemphill occasionally switched to tom-tom to re-create the layered percussion workouts from last year’s captivating drum-dirge manifesto Drum’s Not Dead. Some songs were straight from the Confusion Is Sex-era Sonic Youth playbook, with dissonance punctuating dissonance; others, including those from their recent self-titled LP, showed that they had learned how to write actual songs, but simply ignored the instructions. Australian-born singer Angus Andrew, a gangly cat in a white suit, howled and hummed, his voice transformed and rendered unintelligible by a vocal harmonizer. His white suit making him look like a cross of David Byrne and Nick Cave, Andrew flailed and shook, he did the running man and the mashed potato, he freaked the fuck out. It was the most punk-rock thing the Palace stage has seen since Faith No More in ’92.

No Strings Attached

Meat Puppets

Pearl Street, Northampton, Mass., sept. 5

I fell in love with the Meat Puppets on Wednesday night. It’s not that I hadn’t found things to like about them before this heart-melting show at Pearl Street—I ate up their hit single “Backwater” while I was still learning how to rip my jeans and age my cardigans. But besides a brief flirtation with their most mainstream album, Too High to Die, during that Nirvana Unplugged era, I had all but ignored their body of work. That was a mistake, one it was hard not to regret as the band filled the hot, dark, semi-claustrophobic room with a cool bluster of a romp that saw them charge through their most exciting material.

Kids were literally climbing the rafters to get a better view of Curt Kirkwood as he voraciously attacked his guitar during a balls-out rendition of “Lake of Fire,” a song that Nirvana made famous, but that Meat Puppets truly own. The country plod of “Plateau” was mesmerizing and sounded like heartache.

Kirkwood’s blazing, psychedelic guitar work was a treat whenever it popped up. But the real meat (heh) of their performance came from the country-punk bop of songs like “Up on the Sun” that pranced along like boys from Texas playing T. Rex, thanks to the bouncy rhythm work of bassist Cris Kirkwood and drummer Ted Marcus.

It was painfully obvious why the Meat Puppets never fully captured the grunge audience their record label forced them upon in the ’90s—they have fun, something that could have easily lost them hordes of the newly depressed.

The crowd at Pearl Street was split down the line in their reactions to the band. There were the rockers and thrashers who spazzed out during every sludgy guitar riff, and bobbed their head during the country ballads; they left space between themselves and the country kids who came for a hoedown and shook, clapped their hands, hooted and hollered all night long.

The band seemingly had no choice but to end their set with “Backwater,” and when they did it was rewarding and familiar, and yet, there was a sad weight about it because, as I came to realize that night, the Meat Puppets are better than that song, and more people need to know it.

—David King


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