Sometimes you go see a band play live because you love that one song by theirs that's played on the radio. Or...sometimes you go see a band play live because you've collected their last 5 records and they're finally coming town. Either way, there's nothing worse than wasting an entire evening and shelling out $20 to see a band that doesn't live up to their recordings.
We've all been to these shows... Sometimes the band is a one-trick pony and all their songs sound exactly like their big hit (or vice versa, the one song that you like sounds nothing like the rest of their catalog) Sometimes the singer sounds like shit outside of the comforts of a pro-tools equipped studio...or maybe the band's sound overall sounds thin outside of the studio. Or perhaps the band has absolutely no energy or charisma on stage and their set lulls you to sleep. (my experiences seeing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club come to mind) Whatever the case, it all adds up to disappointment.
On the other hand, every once in a while you get lucky and you see a band that totally blows you away live. This probably happens most often with a band you don't know real well. Maybe you've heard your friend play a song or two in the car or listened to a couple of tracks at the record store. You like what you hear, but it doesn't exactly blow you away. Then, you see the band live and it's a revelation! Suddenly you understand the hype and why your buddy cranks up the band's CD in the car all of the time.
A more rare occurrence, but one that's even more gratifying, is experiencing exhilaration when seeing a band that you think you know well. It's very easy to get a bad or lukewarm impression of a band by just hearing a song or two on the radio...or in the case of a veteran band, by just hearing an album or two. Even completely irrelevant and superficial things can impede your impression of band...maybe your ex- always listened to the band... or that dork from work or class that everyone hates always wore their t-shirt...or maybe you just don't like the lead singer's hair.
However, all of that BS is erased when you see a band live and they completely rawk. This was certainly my experience (and probably the same for quite a few others) when I first saw The Flaming Lips. Sure, I had heard about them for years, but in the end I always just thought of them as the "Don't Use Jelly" one-hit wonders. Then, I saw them live and BAM!! They're now one of my favorite bands. Another similar experience that comes to mind was seeing the Eels live during the Souljacker tour. Even though the show wasn't nearly as much of an epiphany as seeing the Flaming Lips for the first time, I left the venue with significantly more respect and admiration for the band than I when I walked in. The songs that I did know sounded amazing live and the ones that I didn't know didn't send me racing for the bar. Then, out of the blue, they cranked out a seriously killer version of Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On." Yes, Eels covered Missy Elliot...and yes, it fucking rawked!! Much like the Flaming Lips, I realized that the Eels (particularly band-leader "E") are actually great artists, not just washed-up former MTV buzz-bin hacks.
Unfortunately this was the experience I had watching Interpol this past Sunday. While I wouldn't call myself "fanatical" about this band, I liked their first album (2002's Turn on the Bright Lights) and am currently really digging the lead single from their latest album, Antics.
However, hearing them in concert didn't really do that much for me. I can't say that I had a bad time or that Interpol was merely "walking through their set." It was just a very average performance that didn't seem to build upon their recorded work. The songs that I recognized sounded good, but I didn't get anything new from hearing them played live. Furthermore, I don't remember hearing anything that I didn't know that caught my attention.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting a 20-minute guitar solo ala Phish during their hit "PDA," but when I see a band live I want to hear at least some variation in the live performance. You know, something like a slightly different tempo...or a bit more energy...maybe a guitar part I never noticed before...or even an extended break in the middle. But Interpol did none of these...the performance was almost textbook-like. (actually, I did notice one variation...They extended the dramatic pause during "PDA." However, it didn't really work...it just sounded forced and overly dramatic)
Then again, I think some people like it when a band doesn't vary at all from the record when playing live. Fans at this sold out show certainly weren't complaining. Everyone was singing and dancing along for most of the show with many constantly professing their love for the band...particularly uber-trendy fan favorite, Carlos D on bass. There also was an extremely annoying rash of PDA (public displays of affection) throughout the show. I don't know if this is has anything to do with the fact that Interpol's most popular song is called "PDA," or if it was just some sort of strange irony, but it was annoying nonetheless.
As I said before, I didn't exactly dislike the show nor did I develop a seriously bad impression of the band. I just won't be running out to see them play live anytime soon. From now on I'll stick to listening to their records at home where I won't be subjected to watching greasy fans making out for 60 minutes straight.