Interpol, ICA, London

America's most wanted
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Hailing from New York City may not be an asset any more in the fast-moving world of youth culture, as evidenced by the widespread public indifference to The Strokes' last album, but Interpol presage their entrance by playing Is This It anyway, neither intimidated nor embarrassed by the fashionable status of their fellow New Yorkers . The city's second-biggest band of the moment may come on wearing black silk shirts suggesting extreme style consciousness, but they are far more concerned with a fervent enjoyment of all great pop music, whether it's the work of their local rivals, or some synth-pop obscurity.

Hailing from New York City may not be an asset any more in the fast-moving world of youth culture, as evidenced by the widespread public indifference to The Strokes' last album, but Interpol presage their entrance by playing Is This It anyway, neither intimidated nor embarrassed by the fashionable status of their fellow New Yorkers . The city's second-biggest band of the moment may come on wearing black silk shirts suggesting extreme style consciousness, but they are far more concerned with a fervent enjoyment of all great pop music, whether it's the work of their local rivals, or some synth-pop obscurity.

It's this enthusiasm that has underpinned their organic, unhurried climb to success since forming at New York University in 1998, being championed first by honest indie arbiters such as Glasgow's Chemikal Underground label and John Peel, and only later by fans including The Cure (who they've supported across America) and R.E.M. (who covered their "NYC" at a recent live date). And, while the release of their debut album Turn on the Bright Lights in 2002 saw them fortuitously plugging into that year's pop mainline, connecting to both the new New York rock and the passing nouveau-synth fad of electroclash, tonight's gig, previewing its successor, Antics, shows their musical roots to be both richer and deeper.

It is, admittedly, Interpol's visual impact that hits you first. The bassist, Carlos D with his Numanoid dress-sense (hovering half-way between the catwalk and a Nuremberg rally) and creepy Crispin Gloveresque oil-slick fringe, is especially unmissable. With the chiselled, casually half-shaven handsomeness of guitarist Daniel Kessler on his other flank, singer Paul Banks is perhaps the least immediately charismatic or comfortable singer on stage. But when he opens his mouth, his grandiloquent, doomily booming voice instantly makes him the centre of attention. Rooted, finally, in Bowie, it's suggestive of the shameless melodrama of half a dozen other 1980s bands who learned from the Thin White Duke, from the Psychedelic Furs and Bauhaus to Echo & the Bunnymen. With the ICA's black brick wall behind them, and lighting suggestive of bulbs swinging in a warehouse in some early 1980s music video, the references to that once derided decade are overwhelming.

The influence of Joy Division that was so dominant with Interpol even a year ago is, though, more subtle now. Where before they sounded as if they had been cloned from a Peter Hook bass-line, they now seem to have absorbed the philosophy behind that era's New Pop: to sound as big, boldly ambitious and fearlessly serious as possible. Ignoring both the austerity of punk and the irony of the present, it's this that makes tonight's show powerful.

Antics track "Evil" (in which Barker croons, "Why can't we just look the other way?") indicates the band's new moral dimension. But it's with "Do Your Best", with its sustained, symphonic synth-flourishes evoking a Germanic line from Berlin Iggy to Kraftwerk, that the anthemic force at their disposal kicks in. Barker looks up, grinning, at the cheers that follow, not bothering with distanced poses. He may not have the easy hauteur of a pop star, but he compensates with the excited love of a pop fan. As "i" splices The Smiths and Television over a punched home beat, Banks drives himself on till his hair is stringy with sweat, and his voice is snapping and snarling like Johnny Rotten.

Near the end, he stops stone-dead, letting the crowd's yells fill the void, before massed overhead hand-claps greet its riff's return, as if in instinctive, appropriate tribute to Queen's Nazi-parodying 1980s "Radio Ga-Ga" video. Interpol's music still lacks some light and shade, and genuine joy. But with their cavernous sense of scale, and infectious ambition, they have brought something worthwhile back from the age of Thatcher and Le Bon.

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