It's been five years since Interpol became hipster darlings with "Turn on the Bright Lights," and in that time, the band has switched from high-profile indie label Matador to higher-profile major label Capitol and made the leap from clubs to larger venues. But Wednesday's show at a half-empty Agganis Arena showed a band that may be in danger of stalling out.
Of course, half-empty also means half-full, and if Interpol isn't quite arena-size yet, it certainly seemed to be headed in the right direction. Taking the stage enshrouded in blue lights and shadow, the band opened with the ominous wash of "Pioneer to the Falls." When the full band came in behind guitarist Daniel Kessler's pinging notes, the song became crystalline in its gloom.
The crisp snap of Sam Fogarino's drums served both to offset the airy reverb of the guitars and to push the songs forward. He and bassist Carlos D. provided some rhythmic complexity behind guitars that were almost entirely devoid of syncopation for the entire set, which reached its apex in the count-to-four push of "Mammoth."
The unwavering straightforwardness of the guitars was echoed in Paul Banks's singing. Throaty and nasal at once, his vocals were essentially immobile, staying at one emotional pitch all night. It didn't matter whether the band was playing the atmospheric "NYC" or more aggressive songs like "The Heinrich Maneuver" and "PDA." Banks sang them all the same way.
But there were still fine distinctions between songs that otherwise sounded built from identical parts. "Pace Is the Trick" revisited the pings and heart-murmur drumbeat of "Pioneer" with a touch more romance, while "Obstacle 1" got an immediate encore in the form of the less-slashing "Strangers in the Night." Whether they were signs that Interpol is either capable of spinning endless subtle variations on its sound or beginning to run out of ideas, for the moment it worked.
Liars opened with a set of almost textbook art-snob pretentiousness. The inchoate drones and drum-fiesta rumbles led by self-serious frontman Angus Andrew might have played better on a smaller club stage, but they fell flat in an arena.