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Interpol undressed 

And messing up a good thing at the Springsteen show

FEB. 28, 40 WATT CLUB -- Rolling Stone recently crowned Athens the college town with the best music scene, mentioning the 40 Watt as a mandatory activity for any casual audiophile or full-blown rock snob. But a road trip from Atlanta usually isn't in order unless the campus is getting a show that skirts the big city. That was the case Saturday night when current indie-rock darling Interpol brought its mystical macabre and stylized mod-wear to the home of the Bulldogs.

Gainesville, Fla., post-rockers the Mercury Program opened. Like any band of its ilk, the group's lyric-less ambience is a nightmare to see when there isn't a seat in the house. The band showed a keen awareness of its style by keeping its set confined to six songs. Fortunately, the last one was more compelling than expected, aided by a pulsating bongo beat.

Since Interpol is known both for music and fashion (bassist and former hairstylist Carlos Dengler has said he can't respect a man who doesn't know how to dress), several fans in attendance were appropriately dressed in suits and ties. On the other hand, the surplus of indie-rock kids decked out in one-level-above-homeless-wear probably didn't sit well with his tastes.

On stage, Interpol proved that a live show featuring only one album's worth of material can move an audience as much as a set drawn from an expansive and varied catalog. All but the last track of the group's stellar debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, echoed through the PA, as well as a new song (marred by errant microphone feedback). One other non-album song, called "The Specialist," came from Interpol's self-titled EP.

While the live show offered no significant variations on the recordings, the band's stage prowess has grown a bit since its last area show, in December at the Cotton Club. That performance, part of the group's first North American tour, concluded with drummer Sam Fogarino saying, "You guys are the best audience we have had yet."

While that Interpol was doe-eyed and unsure of itself, just a few months later this Interpol was assertive, even cocky. And why not? Guitarist Daniel Kessler ascended the drum riser, Dengler strummed his bass with jerky, evocative movements, and a keyboardist with art-damaged hair pushed and pulled on his instrument to the point where it almost fell over.

But the real payoff was in finding out where the group's real strengths lie. First among them: the rhythm section. Dengler's pulsating basslines and out-of-this-world solos (check the beginning of "The New") lay perfectly over Fogarino's precise drum work. Interpol's skillful layering of minimalist guitar over the rhythm makes its sound resonate, eating up any space and helping each song reach its cathartic conclusion.

The show's only shortcomings: Singer Daniel Kessler's vocals were frequently not high enough in the mix, and the crowd -- judging by the absence of a Fogarino accolade -- was not one the band will particularly remember. Too many T-shirts and jeans, perhaps?

-- Nikhil Swaminathan

Springsteen Follow-up

Last week, CL ran a story about the peaceful, orderly lines that form days in advance of each Bruce Springsteen concert. The lines are for the 300 coveted spots in the "pit," that area right in front of the stage.

But the Wednesday before Springsteen's Altanta-area show Feb. 26, management at the new Gwinnett Center Arena in Duluth announced they would not honor the fan-run line. Whether the idea came from the arena or Springsteen's people is still in question.

At any rate, the arena handed out 100 purple wristbands on Thursday at noon, causing a mad rush by the fans who'd been standing in line for days. Those who didn't get a wristband wrote their names down on a list; they were given a wristband Friday at noon. Hundreds more lined up for the remaining few dozen spots still available. The word "clusterfuck" was overheard often outside the arena.

That wasn't all, though. To determine the order of the 300 lucky pit winners, the arena had fans draw a number out of a bucket Friday afternoon. From then until they were let into the arena, the only proof you had a place in line was a piece of paper with a number written on it in Sharpie.

"Nobody was happy," says Andrew Wicks, who ended up scoring one of the lucky 300 spots.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Springsteen's next stop -- Sunday in Austin, Texas -- saw the return of the fan-run line. There's something to be said about not fixing something that ain't broken.

-- Steve Fennessy

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