When Paul Banks and his band walked on stage last night, with no preamble of any kind, the four musicians took up their positions, and as drifts of fog floated gently by, the guitar sparkle and low-end bass slides introduced one of Banks's best solos, "Skyscraper." The song, from Banks's Julian Plenti record, is pretty enough on its own, but when Banks came in with his haunting voice, which was just shy of a vibrato quaver, it gave the song an undeniably resonant force.
Banks drew liberally from his entire catalog for his set, omitting just a handful of his songs. Though seventeen songs in total, Banks and company made the show feel like it was incredibly short. In fact, compared to the places Interpol has played on its most recent tours, the Bluebird felt like getting to see Banks in a somewhat intimate setting. The ambient fog that softened the stage lights conveyed that mood along with the band's quiet demeanor.
Throughout the show, Banks seemed pleasantly surprised and grateful for the enthusiastic response he got from the crowd as though he might have expected people not to know his solo material as they might that of Interpol. "Fly As You Might" had one of the most interesting builds and transformations of the set; it began as a kind of percussive texture and evolved in steps to a swaying and swinging song even more so than the studio version.
The transition out of the intro to "Over My Shoulder" echoed stirringly, while "Young Again" struck the appropriately wry, defiant and gently self-deprecating note. "The Base" included the electronics you hear on the album but it sounded so much more organic in this performance, and not just because of the live instrumentation, but more like Banks and crew adapted some of this material a bit to take on the road.
Before the last song of the set, Banks smiled and said, "There's a really good vibe tonight." And there was. Maybe the cold had people in a more relaxed, open spirit. Certainly there was a dreamlike quality to much of the set that the haze of fog enhanced. Most of the people at the show probably also really wanted to see what Banks had been doing since Interpol has been on hiatus.
For his part, Banks, though not the kind of performer to hit you over the head with clumsy histrionics, delivered his vocals with a strong but refined and direct emotional force when the song and the moment called for it. Some frontmen chew scenery, as it were, but Banks's delivery reflected the grace and dignity undergirding his songwriting. The main set ended with "Games For Days," and then the guys came back and treated us to "On the Esplanade," followed by "Paid For That."
The opening band, The Neighbourhood from Los Angeles, combined a jangly guitar rock sound with organically downtempo beats and moody, sometimes tense, atmospheres generated by creative use of guitar. It's a relatively new band so you have to forgive a little wearing its influences a bit obviously. But James Rutherford's hip-hop inflected vocals gave the music a reggae-esque lilt. The band played "Sweater Weather" from its excellent I'm Sorry EP and effectively set the tone for what was to follow in Paul Banks's set.
Personal Bias: I was already a fan of Paul's singing for Interpol.
Random Detail: Ran into former Pink Swastika's and Mood Syrup frontman Lloyd Arcesia at the show.
By the Way: Banks' band for this show was Damien Paris (The Giraffes) on lead guitar, Charles Burris on drums and Brandon Curtis (The Secret Machines and Interpol) on bass.
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