I WAS THERE: ‘That Moody Guy From Interpol’ Delivers a Decent Guggenheim Set, Makes Us Reach For His Julian Plenti Record

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Words and Photos by Andrew Parks

It all started with animals copulating on an album cover–the front of Interpol’s third full-length, if you must know. Ever since then, it’s as if the band’s divergent ideas and apparent love/hate relationship (see also: The Strokes, who announced rehearsals for a ‘new record’ at nearly the same time as Interpol this past spring) were leading to a serious case of writer’s block. Not to mention the inability to top the pitch-black perfection of Turn On the Bright Lights. And that’s okay. Let Carlos D explore his film school inclinations while Sam Fogarino indulges his Swervediver fantasies. Meanwhile Paul Banks can return to his roots as…Julian Plenti? What is this, his mild-mannered singer-songwriter phase, complete with string arrangements and lots of laptop programming?

Yes and no. Assuming a long-dormant alias hasn’t relegated Banks’ career to a realm of self-indulgence so much as brought him back down to earth. Maybe we should have assumed this based on Plenti’s playful press photos, but the guy’s clearly happier than he’s been in years; finally free of the deadly serious stance that made Interpol shows appear stilted and joyless. Which isn’t that surprising. Unlike Carlos D or Daniel Kessler, Banks was never the type to assume a steely suit-and-tie guise in public. In fact, the last time we saw Banks wandering the Lower East Side, he was clad in a baseball cap and a classy but casual getup that screamed I’m really trying to be incognito here.

Presented as part of the Guggenheim’s “It Came From Brooklyn” series, Julian Plenti’s proper live debut was a pleasant reminder that Banks is alive and well, a Cheshire Cat who isn’t as miserable as Interpol’s hefty press clippings would suggest. His songs are still moody, though–sparse and slightly spooky affairs, as fleshed out by a full band and trio of string players. Especially when presented in the museum’s cavernous space, a literal translation of the Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper LP if there ever was one.

Yes we had to bite our tongue a couple times, as the nagging need to hear “Obstacle 1” and “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” slapped us across the ear. But that urge was muted by such standout tracks as “Only If You Run,” a mid-tempo indie pop gem that really oughta be Plenti’s lead-off single instead of “Games For Days.” Since it isn’t, here’s a streaming version along with Friday’s setlist and more photos…

Julian Plenti @ Guggenheim Museum, 9.25.09:
Fly As You Might
Girl on the Sporting News
Fun That We Have
Horse With No Name (America cover)
No Chance Survival
Madrid Song
On the Esplanade
Only If You Run
Into the White (Pixies cover)