The woman standing behind me at 9:30 Club Wednesday night verbalized what everyone in the audience was thinking: “Paul is so upbeat today.”
Paul Banks, known primarily as the frontman of alternative rock-group Interpol, abandoned his previously solemn demeanor while performing with Wu-Tang Clan frontman RZA in their first ever music project Banks & Steelz: a collaboration effectively fusing 2000’s alternative with classic hip-hop.
To the naked eye, these genres, as well as the artists who personify them, couldn’t be more different (with Banks’ love for hip-hop taking the back burner with the inception of 2002’s “Turn On the Bright Lights”), yet the surprising fluency of the duo’s music and personalities took stage Aug. 31, dressed professionally in suits, performing songs from their debut album, “Anything But Words,” released Aug. 26.
Banks’ and RZA’s stage presence instantly brought an eerily chilling atmosphere—a feeling of almost palpable swagger—draping the audience with a blanket of fog, rich lighting and echoing guitar trill reminiscent of the classic Interpol sound longtime fans know so well, having waited four years for 2014’s “El Pintor” album.
Banks’ notorious baritone voice began singing “Ana Electronic,” the second track off the album, perfectly complimented by RZA’s quick wit and rhyme who then took the liberty of leading “Speedway Sonora,” all before showering the crowd with champagne in honor of the record.
Halfway through the set, RZA advised that “if you’re not having a good time, you’re wasting your time,” a mantra he and Banks both abided by.
The pair’s banter and storytelling between songs added genuine personality to the show and the common happiness shared between them was visibly contagious. Banks’ smile—a feature rarely seen due to his struggles with addiction (expressed in Interpol’s “Wrecking Ball”) and reputation for musical solemnity—illuminated the dim stage while RZA’s laughter resonated in the airwaves almost more than his rhymes.
It was clear that the bond the two performers share reaches deeper than just their New York City roots or their common love for chess. The two appeared to be having the time of their lives.
As the night progressed, the duo had inexplicable control over the crowd’s energy, making it swell during songs like “Giant” and “Sword in the Stone,” and effortlessly descend during “One by One,” a song written to honor soldiers fighting for our country, and “Can’t Hardly Feel,” a love track about falling for someone who is already in love.
After two encores of “Anything But Words” and “Point of View,” Banks & Steelz left us all wanting more: more songs, more rap and more good times.
Fans reluctantly tore away their eyes and ears, receded their raised hands in the shape of the Wu-Tang symbol and departed, though with looks of both bliss and appreciation painted on their faces—expressions reflecting those of the artists they had come to see.
Featured Photo Credit: Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA infuses signature hip-hop and prose into Banks’ alternative rock, post-punk sound for Banks & Steelz. The duo debuted their first album “Anything but Words” August 26. (Joe Duffy/Bloc Photographer)
Jordan Stovka is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.