Y2K came and went without a glitch except perhaps for the unanswered question “Who was the greatest in the 20th century?” Mohammad Ali self proclaimed to the title and arguably had a case. But for me there was only one contender.
He bespectacled with lightening speed and a serve and one handed backhand to die for. Born black in the segregated south and attaining the rank of major in the US army. The first Afro-American to win a tennis grand slam tournament. He won the first US Open of the open era played at Forrest Hills as an amateur and then was forced to forego his price money. By normal standards a mightily good effort but then to go on and champion the the anti-racial discrimination movement in America and around the world. He followed up to a give a voluntary press conference to tell the world he was suffering with AIDS and give a final speech to the UN pleading for acceptance and humane treatment of all AIDS sufferers. He died at 49 years. ARTHUR ASHE for me was the greatest .
So when the opportunity came up to see Interpol an iconic New York band play the 15 year anniversary of their their first album Turn on the Bright Lights at Forrest Hills Stadium it was a pilgrimage too good to miss.
NYC in autumn is a sultry affair with hurricanes marching up the coast and the thermometer hitting 86 degrees Fahrenheit. So nothing better than to head out to the green gentrified surroundings of the New York borough of Queens and enjoy the sunset looking down on the centre court where ARTHUR won in five.
The undulcet rhythm heavy post rock of support band Battles wets the appetite.
The light was falling as Bradford Cox and his band Deerhunter take the stage. Cox has a reputation for savage live performances that often include acerbic whit that can turn quickly to abusive snarls directed towards the audience. There was none of this on display tonight. Cox appeared to be genuinely honoured to have been asked to play at the request of Interpol. Cox and band gave a cook’s tour through Deerhunters current and back catalogue with barely a whisper of profanity. The marfanian figure of Cox with mike in hand towering towards the audience as if to wrap them in his spider-like hug. Helicopter from Halcyon Digest even had tears streaming down the eyes of the audience.
By the time Interpol take the stage the evening light has faded and the stage is lit up like Manhattan itself. After 15 years interpol have lost none their impeccable “cool” stage presence or their designer black suits(although they had lost base player Carlos D in 2010). They emerged from the early 2000s NYC city music scene at a time when dance music and DJs had the youth enslaved. Along with The Stokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs they brought punters back to live music. Quite a feat given Lord Mayor Rudy Giuliani had cleaned NYC up so much no one could play live music without a licence. They started with UNTITLED then brought it all the way through from start to finish with LEIF ERICSON. Looking around there were a lot of 30 something-year-old New Yorkers for whom this was a seminal record that defined their youth (for some 60-year-old non New Yorkers too). Paul Bank’s voice was a majestical baritone that just stated, held and finished the sentimental mood. Maybe at the start with UNTITLED and then OBSTACLE 1 Banks and band were a little staid but they soon built up to full throttle by SAY HELLO TO THE ANGELS and they absolutely nailed LEIF ERICSON with Daniel Kessler’s guitar howling into the night. Paul Banks then announced, “This song was always clumped into Turn on the Bright Lights songs so we are going to play it.” And they launched into THE SPECIALIST. After a brief break they came back for four songs ending reluctantly on the fantastic ALL THE RAGE BACK HOME. The 10pm curfew of the leafy green had curtailed the last two songs.
For me this had been a pilgrimage both to ARTHUR but also to a band that brought me out of my middle-aged lounge chair and back onto the swaying dance floors of live music.