Interpol and Blonde Redhead at Austin Music Hall in 2005

I expected to find such a concentrated concatenation of hip-nrrds, neo-wavers, i-rockers*, music store counter personnel, and assorted scenesters at the Austin Music Hall that one good earthquake would have wiped out the colony (maybe the $20 fee scared off the legion of black-t-shirted, bike-ridin’, vinyl-LP fixated People Who Used to Be Called Mods by Others But Never Referred to Themselves That Way). In any event the place was PACKED by the young and not so young fans of NYC’s Interpol, but not with so many sad young poets in fancy pants…a fairly mainstream crowd, as it turned out. Interpol came on to very loud applause and the major (!) key of “Next Exit” from their new album Antics. I’m not sure what I was expecting (never having seen them before and having taken my time about hearing their breakthrough album Turn on The Bright Lights), but this was rather jaunty and almost exuberant. The applause was near DEAFENING… and from twenty somethings in SUV’s who maybe think people who look like Carlos D. (bass player) “are like freaks or something”.  But then Interpol has nailed down their own sound, defined by very basic structural post-punk beneath the almost atonal singing of Paul Banks. The heavy reverb on the guitars is often rather like Explosions in the Sky or Disintegration-era Cure, but almost everything else is spare, stark, structural. Banks’ opaque lyrics invite scrutiny, and he uses the seeming limitations on his voice effectively, mostly using about three or four notes in the same range on songs that sound pretty similar.  Interpol builds up tension and mysterious emotional resonance as he goes higher or changes intensity.  The songs build up to sweeping waveforms and then fade out to just one or two players, who reveal layers that are present the whole time that underlay the composition. I can’t determine whether they are capable of something else and deliberately keeping things simple, or are at the limits of their prowess, but I find the instrumental passages and songwriting intriguing.

Blonde Redhead (supporting their new compilation release Secret Society of Butterflies) sounded mysterioso as we hurried up to the stage. The many minor chords and dreamy progressions reminded me of that all-time-hero of space cadets, Syd Barrett…at times the trio flitted and flirted into psych-rock, but without overdoing it in an annoyingly retro. Japanese singer Kazu Makino possesses a distinctive, compelling voice stage presence (and is most easy on the eyes as well). At his best the Italian Amadeo Pace produces a melancholic, tranced-out sound from his guitar, occasionally framing more delicate structures with space (whereas 98.7% of guitarists just strum away until the end of the song) while his twin brother Simone delivered taut and commanding drumming throughout the set.   Blonde Redhead has an ambitious and arty sound on record, and sometimes live, but elsewhere it was just back to the ‘90’s era of loud guitar alt-rock, for me at least.  And something was puzzling though: who was playing bass?   Makino strummed her 6-string a bit, but it turned out that a pre-recorded bass track is how the band keeps things together on the low end: big disappointment.  For that matter Makino was also singing along with a pre-recorded version of herself! Then the CD skipped and the trio panicked…just kidding. They did fine. But somewhere a bed-headed, two-day stubbled bass-player in an old t-shirt is calling home and asking his parents for rent money.

*I-rockers-short for “indie rockers”

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