Paul Banks – Webster Hall – December 14, 2012
A decade ago, New York City’s music scene wasn’t as clearly stamped as it is today. The Strokes symbolized the brash, carefree youth culture that liked to rock out and party, and the avant-garde art-rock movement that now permeates Brooklyn was just beginning, but the identity was undefined and low profile. No one stepped up to make a bold statement. Then came Interpol. Their music had a tense rawness and magnitude that made you take notice, vividly representing the after-hours lifestyle that’s contributed to so much of the city’s lore. It was dark, seductive and a little bit dangerous. But most of all, it was grand.
Interpol projected a sophisticated image of slick urban bravado, lending a mystique to complement their captivating sound with lead singer Paul Banks perfectly cast as frontman: the storyteller, crafting the script to Interpol’s film noir and delivering it with a haunting and almost menacing vocal narrative. You often got the feeling he inhabited the places others would only peer into and then quickly move past. But recently, Banks has stood apart from Interpol as a solo act, and he put his second full-length album on display at Webster Hall on Friday night. Banks’s presence was such a distinctive element of Interpol that his solo material sounds like a branch of the same tree. Still, he has distinguished his new work with varied and expanded songwriting, while managing to hold on to the badass urgency that made his band so attractive.
Of course, the Interpol faithful that were lured into their world by Banks’s voice and textured guitar chords, were in attendance, but their calls for classic material were barely acknowledged, as he stood poised to assert himself as a standalone talent. The core fans weren’t entirely ignored, though, as new songs “Paid for That” and “No Mistakes” were delivered in true Interpol form, but solo-artist Banks has shed the aura a bit. As ever, his voice commanded the room, yet he seemed less guarded and a little warmer than the dark figure that’s loomed onstage in the past, proved by songs like “Young Again” and “The Base,” which were more intimate and revealing. So while many—like I—came looking for that signature visceral Interpol experience, they were pleasantly greeted by the frontman stepping out a little from behind the curtain of red light and expanding his range. —Charles Steinberg