The summer of 2002 in the rock world was essentially the summer of New York City. The city’s rebirth following 9/11 was channeled in its exploding scene that eventually took over the world. This is chronicled best in Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom, the excellent oral history of that era. While many point to the Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs as the primary influencers of those early years, Interpol were without the frills, but definitely in their own moody ways had thrills.
Low-key and suited, the quartet’s moody, melodic post-punk/shoegaze encapsulated those anxious days on their outstanding Turn on the Bright Lights debut. The 2002 release landed on many best of lists and the songs remain as poignant of an image of the New York post-punk revival than any other record.
To celebrate the record’s 15th anniversary the three original members embarked on a European tour to commemorate the occasion. Only four shows — two in New York City, two in Los Angeles — would honor the album Stateside. Performing Turn on the Bright Lights at the El Rey managed to capture, for those who may have missed the band on their ascent what it would have been like to hear these songs on their first go-round. The dimly lit stage captured the ethos and spirit of the album. Oh, and the band wasn’t too bad either. The sweaty venue seemed to enthrall the band, with each member could be seen smiling without worrying about the drench furrowing from their brows.
Despite continuing to be on the outs with founding bassist Carlos D., Interpol methodically dissected the album with a precision of a surgeon. The melancholic noir beauty of “NYC” still feels like the song you’d listen to a lonely cab ride down the BQE (that’s Brooklyn-Queens Expressway for those of you at home) after a bad break-up. “Untitled” continues to be the gloomy song powered by Daniel Kessler’s guitar and Paul Banks’ moody vocals that shrouds them in mystery, while “PDA” still has the aura of loneliness that made the lyrics so relatable to begin with.
Unlike other massive album celebrations, there was a refreshing no-frills element to this show that felt more like a throwback than a celebration. The band — along with bassist Brad Truax and keyboardist Brandon Curtis — trucked through the album (and B-side “Specialist”) with the intimacy of reintroducing an old friend.
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Though sonically and scene-wise Los Angeles couldn’t have been more different than New York during those years, there’s still an intrinsic connection with an album like this. For some (including this guy) Turn on the Bright Lights isn’t even the band’s best album — it’s follow-up Antics is the winner there. But, what Antics lacks in being a snapshot in of the at the time underdog city is where Turn on the Bright Lights thrives.
Once the band finished those 12 songs, the remainder of the set featured a greatest hits package and a new song. Hearing “Evil,” “Not Even Jail,” “Slow Hands” from Antics and “All the Rage Back Home” from 2014's El Pintor would be highlights at an ordinary Interpol show. Those songs took a decided back seat as the band comfortably revisited their beginnings. With a new album on the way, but for one night before the last night, Interpol with some nostalgia without getting too wrapped up in the moment. It’s may be hard to believe that it’s been over 15 years since the release of Turn on the Bright Lights, but Interpol reminded folks why the album remains an essential body of work.