Revisit the Drunkest Performance of Interpol’s Career
Interpol were still a young and hungry band with something to prove when they took the stage at the La Route du Rock festival in August 2001. With only two EPs in their discography, the band had yet to sign with Matador Records or start. to record their first album. Turn on the bright lights. Instead, they were one of the many supercharged groups in the burgeoning New York indie rock scene known for their style and music at this point.
How the group managed to secure a prime spot at the French festival is still relatively unclear. Perhaps the group’s management managed to convince the organizers that Interpol was on par with The Strokes, who had just released their first LP, Is this this. Perhaps the New York hype had already taken over all of Europe. However, they succeeded and Interpol was now on the verge of one of the biggest milestones in their nascent career. A killer performance was sure to do wonders in building an international following, and it was their chance to prove their worth outside of their home country.
But that’s not how it happened. You see, with pointy costumes, supremely Gothic aesthetics, and hip hairstyles, another staple of Interpol’s experience around this time was drug addiction. The group members had a fondness for cocaine, and accounts of their debauchery can rival those of any other group of the time. It wouldn’t affect their performance most of the time, but their appearance at La Route du Rock is an obvious exception.
There is a bizarre feeling that is immediately established when singer Paul Banks begins to awkwardly hang out and dance awkwardly during the opening song “Untitled”. The other members are stoic and play their roles diligently, but Banks’ voice is completely extinguished the second he opens his mouth.
Anyone who’s been way too drunk at a karaoke party knows the kind of vocals Banks produces. It’s thin and clear, totally ignoring the pitch, and wobbles as if controlled by the various chorus and reverb pedals at its feet and those of guitarist Daniel Kessler. Banks manages to get through ‘Untitled’ minimalist vocals without sounding completely sloshed, but once the party gets into ‘Obstacle 1’ things start to go south.
Credit is due: Banks doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to his guitar parts. The intro of ‘Obstacle 1’, the complex changes of ‘Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down’, and the double lines of ‘The New’ are all solid. Also of note: some of the songs haven’t been fully fleshed out yet, so when Banks seems to mess up lines from “Obstacle 1” and “NYC”, there’s a good chance those songs haven’t finished lyrics for. start, so the singer’s drunkenness gets a pass in that regard.
What doesn’t get a pass is how drunk Banks is. The guy is wasted, constantly in danger of falling or accidentally bumping into his group mates, and his chirping barks do nothing to hide that. The group managed to go through their entire set without too many mishaps, but the chance to leave the crowd stunned had passed the second Banks approached the microphone.
The performance does not seem to have had a very negative effect on Interpol’s career in France: Turn on the Luminous still traced, and their follow-up Antics reached 11th place in the French charts. But for a band that has so much to gain and lose from what was easily their biggest gig in this country so far, the results are more embarrassing than emboldening.
Yet, come to think of it, there is certainly something endearing about the performance cast. Banks was barely 23, was part of a sexy young group with an incredibly hip scene, and was probably pretty nervous about going on such a big stage. His methods of allaying that nervousness were probably a little excessive, but they also represent a certain uncontrolled and unbridled awkwardness that is rarely seen from a group as serious as Interpol. Banks would later quit his drinking habits, and if every performance might sound like that, it was probably for the best.