Interpol @ Penn’s Landing River Stage (07/25/2015)

interpol1Coming upon the final stretch of the El Pintor American Tour, one could understand if indie icons Interpol would be worn out by a hectic schedule through a scorching summer. But their appearance at Penn’s Landing’s River Stage – a last-minute change due to “unexpected site maintenance at Festival Pier” (Ticketmaster) – proved the polar opposite. Highlights from El Pintor were sprinkled amongst landmark singles and fan favorites spanning their other four albums and nearly two-decade career, painting a gorgeous portrait of NYC rock with strokes of post-punk revival.

The wave of dark but invigorating tunes was perfectly complimented by breezy warm weather at the River Stage, providing a scintillating, personal engagement for the fans. While one may normally peg Interpol for grander outdoor stages or fashionable metropolitan clubs, the small stage harkened back to the days of Turn on the Bright Lights, calling upon the boundless energy of youth and working it into new hits like “Anywhere” and “All the Rage Back Home.” Jumping the expanse between their debut and latest release – which also happens to be the group’s first album sans bassist Carlos D. – illuminated the conceptual and aural bridge that was the original inspiration for the group’s self titled album.

The backdrop of lit-up industrial complexes across from the pulsations of the inky Delaware River framed the spectacle perfectly. Distinct warm-but-cool plucks of bass flowed through the gentle multi-hued stage fog only to be pierced by Daniel Kessler’s sizable Gibson, the striking notes captivating the crowd from opener “Say Hello to the Angels” to the encore ending with “Obstacle 1.” This vitality fueled the spacey guitars of cuts like “Everything Is Wrong” to evoke a heady awe. Even somber slow-builders like “Leif Erikson” and “Pioneer to the Falls” maintained the powerful undercurrent of the eve to great effect. One could taste the amplified elegance consistently, but it would truly come to a head during the stark end of “Pioneer.” Simplicity truly illustrated depth in moments like these.

interpol2Banks’s impassioned vocals projected a lush tone of carousing through velveteen nights. Touring member Brad Truax brought the pivotal thick and punchy bass, intertwining with Sam Fogarino’s perfectly calculated percussion, yet never falling to a passive back-beat. Weaving tight cracks on the snare and polished rhythm, Fogarino humbly held it all together. The forefront of Kessler’s vigorous outbursts of sharp riffs and Banks’s reserved yet lively tempo played out like inspiring conversation.

The thing about Interpol’s live show is that they have this flawlessness about them, a careful precision and perfection that one may not even notice directly. Yet this incredible tendency to absolutely nail every track never suggests a monotonous mixed playlist as projected through a PA system. Seemingly minuscule alterations, a stepped-up verse here, drawn out instrumental stretches there, subtle speed-ups; they all gently tweak the skeleton of the music, elevating standards like “Evil” and “Slow Hands” beyond the confines of simple recitation.

Saturday’s show could have just been a simple run-down, fulfilling the date in an adequate sense, and still have enthralled me with every moment. But this is Interpol, a band that does not just phone it in – they bring you into a microcosm of cosmopolitan cool, grasping you with every single note, filling your senses with liveliness and lust. Live Interpol is effortless, chic energy incarnate, and they brought that aura to Philadelphia tenfold, wrapping every listener in a soundscape of pain, romance, drama, wit and wonder.

Photos are courtesy of Krys Sansone and are used with permission

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Squalor – Live in the Ring (07/05/2015)

squalorIt’s rather easy to dismiss hardcore punk as repetitive. Even with – or in spite of – a relatively short history, it seems like many newer acts in the scene can be easily reduced to a simple reference point. Once you’ve gone through about twenty or thirty versions of Black Flag with a dash of Minor Threat and some Agnostic Front, you start to lose the formerly bold and adventurous taste of what those very bands embodied. While cutting your teeth on some Dead Kennedys is fine, a band has to branch out, try something new, in order to really make the music its own – otherwise it comes to a standstill reminiscent of a bored cover band.

And that’s what makes Portland, Oregon’s Squalor so intense, impassioned, and downright invigorating – they seem to bring draw more upon their own musical histories than that of the scene at large. Yeah, you can definitely pick up on some standards, but Squalor manages to bring it all together in a way that you cannot ignore. The feel of early 2000’s hardcore resurgence, the distinct west-coast punk vibe, and subtle nods to legends like Converge are present – but they refuse to limit themselves to these influences. One can actually sense that these guys grew up immersed in this sound, paying respect yet still harboring a need to push forward. There’s a rawness to “The Noel E.P.” (released January 2015) that highlights the explosive passion and energy the genre was built on, all the while distorting and amplifying it into something darker, angrier and more than willing to prove it.

As the thunderous intro to “Dry” quickly breaks into a hypertensive blast, you barely have time to catch your breath before this E.P. shreds your hardcore assumptions and eardrums to pieces. When the strained shouts throughout “No Sympathy” slows down to a throat-crippling exclamation of “I hate my job, I hate my friends, I’m so depressed, it never ends,” it sends shivers down the spine. By the time it wraps up with the chugging rhythm of “No You’re Not,” you get that drive to put the E.P. on repeat, get up and throw down. This is the way hardcore is meant to be – simple, brutal, honest, passionate, stirring.

Just this past Sunday, Squalor played a house show at The Darkplace. Even sans bassist, these guys charge through a bloodthirsty cavalcade of a set. Channeling the power present at good live hardcore punk shows, you feel the band’s energy feeding the crowd, and the reciprocal voltage that goes right back into the music. That vitality is beautifully augmented here, in a familiar yet distinct outcry that recharges your faith in fun, angry punk rock. So sit back and crank up this dynamic response to the monotony of loud music – you will feel it, right down to the bones.

Many thanks to Darkvids for putting up the audio as part of their “Live in the Ring” series.