Paul Banks at Varsity Theater, 11/25/12

Paul Banks at Varsity Theater, 11/25/12
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

Paul Banks
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Sunday, November 25, 2012

When the lead singer of an already popular band strikes out on his own to offer up a solo album every so often, it's inevitable that the work will be compared to the band he fronts. Is it better? Is it worse? How is it different? As it turned out on Sunday night at the Varsity those questions became a little harder to answer than it would seem they should be, though, as for the last one, many of the songs weren't different enough from Paul Banks' band, Interpol, to have their own merit. Many came off like half-baked Interpol B-sides and while they were okay, much of it seemed like a sterilized, unnatural version of the band -- too-white, machine-built dentures to Interpol's worn-in, natural teeth. And while the bite was still there, when Banks finally pulled away an hour later, the teeth simply fell to the ground and it felt as if almost nothing had happened at all.

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Slideshow: Paul Banks at Varsity Theater

Opening with "Skyscraper" and "Fun That We Have" from 2009's Julian Plenti Is...Skyscraper, the show was off to a fair start and "I'll Sue You" from his new Banks (the--let's be judicious here--idiotic "Julian Plenti" alter-ego was ditched just weeks ago) kept things moving along nicely. The set slowed a bit, though, as both Banks and guitarist Damian Paris, usually of New York band the Giraffes, took so long tuning that the intro that the beautiful intro bassist/keyboardist Brandon Curtis (usually seen with the Secret Machines) set up had long since passed by the time "Fly As You Might" actually got under way. However, it was one of the few songs that stood completely on it's own without drawing any comparison to Banks' main gig, with the staccato guitar riffs completely dry of the absinthe bath much of Interpol's oeuvre seems to have taken.

"No Chance Survival" followed, it's lyrics bringing to light something else: the songs thus far had made almost complete logical sense and did for the rest of the show. Interpol has long been criticized for the comical absurdity of their lyrics ("We have 200 couches where you can sleep tight," anyone?) but when Banks is writing for himself, he affects a much more relatable, human tone. He could be excused a bit if they wound up being a little less vivid, overall, since the payoff was stories that you could relate to your own life as opposed to feeling like your trapped inside the mind of Salvador Dali -- though sometimes that's fun, too.

Paul Banks at Varsity Theater, 11/25/12
Paul Banks at Varsity Theater, 11/25/12
Photos by Anna Gulbrandsen

"Over My Shoulder," though, pushed something else to the forefront: the elements for this to be great were all there but it somehow didn't gel as well as Interpol does. More often than not, the night seemed to be like watching Our Town as done by the local junior high school drama club. Everybody knew their lines and stage directions but it was done by rote and the kids seemed nervous--a lot of the natural feeling got sucked out in the process. There were definitely some good passages but nothing that could be described as "great."

Toward the end of the hour-long set "The Base," the new single from Banks surfaced as the night's ultimate highlight -- one of a scant few songs that didn't beg for comparison to Interpol -- and with a couple more and a fairly phoned-in two song encore, the show ended more like a ship docking in the night than anything else; it was quiet and everyone (including the band) just wanted it to go smoothly without drawing too much attention. Which isn't necessarily how you want to end a show, but nothing got broken either, so you'd have to call it a successful landing.

Critic's Bias: Despite what I've said here Interpol remains a favorite band of mine and I was excited to see Banks in a smaller setting that I guessed correctly would be lightly attended and feel more intimate. Overall, I was kind of let down by the whole thing.

The Crowd: The guys: most were dressed in shades of Banks' now-signature wardrobe of ultra-tailored, vintage suits and '60s footwear with military or military-inspired coats. The girls: (see above -- but with skirts)

Overheard in the Crowd: Hardly anything. If I had been blindfolded, I'd have thought I walked into a small, acoustic show in a West Bank coffee shop.

Notebook Dump: These songs are far less depressing than Interpol's but that's not always better, somehow.

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