Today, Paul Banks is simply Paul Banks. Yesterday, he was Julian Plenti.
It’s understandable if it sounds a bit confusing. Banks put out a first solo album under the pseudonym Julian Plenti while Interpol was on hiatus in 2009. Last month, he released a second solo album under his own name, embracing strategically and musically a new motto — simplify.
And simplification is the major difference between Paul Banks the solo act and his band Interpol. Banks solo enjoys more of the quiet moments, strumming to a more peaceful brand of post-punk than the more aggressive music found in Interpol’s albums. Sonically speaking, if Interpol wants to rush into awkward sex on the first date and harbor recriminations about it, Banks solo wants to romance and take it slow. And still maybe have some recriminations about what happens later.
The crowd of roughly 200 or so people at The Howard Theatre were there Friday night to listen respectfully to what Banks had to say as a solo artist. An early shout-out for “Interpol!” was shouted down by several others from across the room, “Paul Banks!” Banks offered up 15 songs from his two solo albums, the new ones from the latest album, Banks, sounding as sweet and melancholy as the songs from Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper. Opening with Julian Plenti’s “Fly As You Might” and “Skyscraper,” Banks and his three-piece backing band then seamlessly moved into material from the self-titled Banks.
Like the first album, songs on the second album tend to be a bit sweeping and uplifting, as with “Arise, Awake,” an ode to overcoming challenges and embracing life. The somewhat jauntier “I’ll Sue You,” seems to be a jab at people who want to cling to a past relationship with no desire to move on. The melodic instrumental “Lisbon” makes for easy listening for the post-punk crowd. And “Summertime Is Coming” evokes both physically and metaphysically getting outside to enjoy the warmth of the season.
All in all, the new songs are very pleasant and make for a very pleasant concert-going experience. It would not be unfair to say, however, that a lot of them lack a sense of urgency — not necessarily a bad thing but it takes some adjusting when you hear Banks’ voice and expect an Interpol song to follow. By and large, very few of the solo songs sound like Interpol songs except for Banks’ distinctive voice.
In performance, Banks seems grateful for an audience and an opportunity to play. He’s soft-spoken and laidback and you can see that he’s definitely into his own groove. Still, the actual show is a bit wooden. While certainly agreeable, you begin to wonder what the show adds to simply sitting down and listening to the album.
Banks hits his adopted city of New York Tuesday night, playing Webster Hall, before going across the country primarily for a string of dates in California. Then he takes his tour to Europe. He’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the mood for smooth spiraling guitar work that is a big step or two away from Interpol. But if anything I’ve said leads you to believe you might find it to be a bit sleepy, you might want to wait for Interpol to come back around.