- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Since the 2002 release of its first album, Interpol’s darkly atmospheric songs and slick urban fashion sense have led to international fame and critical praise. So it’s fair to wonder if the trappings of stardom have affected the band’s approach to songwriting.

“It’s not like that all,” says Interpol bassist Carlos Dengler. “The music we create is a pure distillation of our aesthetic. … It’s a natural expression of our personalities.”

There’s no way that the size of a venue or scope of a tour could affect Interpol’s motivations, he says.

That’s not an overdramatic pronouncement coming from Mr. Dengler, known as Carlos D. He seems sincere and grounded, especially after experiencing what he calls a “revelation” during last summer’s “Curiosa” tour with gloom-rock icons the Cure.

The tour forced Mr. Dengler to come to grips with his life and career, he says. When he was a teenager, the Cure provided the background music for the times he sat alone in the dark, draped in melancholy. By performing on the same stage as his idols, Mr. Dengler began to accept that he was now a professional musician.

” ‘You’re going to have to give that soundtrack to other people,’ ” he says he thought to himself.

Since then, the lanky bassist with the affinity for stylish black clothes has found comfort in the stability of his busy life and the success of Interpol’s sophomore effort, “Antics.” The band tours incessantly and sells out most venues, including its dates tomorrow and Saturday at the 9:30 Club.

• • •

It’s been 10 months since French Kicks released “The Trial of the Century,” but the New York City band with D.C. roots is still touring to promote the CD.

“This record is really fun to play live,” says Nick Stumpf, French Kicks singer and drummer. “There’s a fun combination of sounds” that translates well to the stage, he says. The group performs at the Black Cat on Saturday.

He’s referring to the jittery, pulse-quickening keyboard tucked behind a propulsive bass line on “One More Time” and the interplay between a twinkling piano note and the precision of a snare drum crack on the title song.

Mr. Stumpf credits producer, engineer and mixer Doug Boehm for introducing a relaxed atmosphere in the studio. During the recording process, “you have to experiment as much as possible,” Mr. Stumpf says. “The things that we try to accomplish are so abstract.”

Mr. Stumpf reminisces about his District past: He and his and brother Lawrence, who plays bass, lived in Northwest Washington, as did guitarist-keyboardist Matt Stinchcomb. Nick Stumpf attended Sidwell Friends School; Lawrence went to Duke Ellington High.

Nick Stumpf particularly remembers the five-bands-for-$5 shows that provided an outlet for so many high school bands, and the variety of venues, including community centers, schools and churches, that welcomed the groups and their friends.

“It’s a great place to grow up playing music,” he says.

• • •

When Eric Bachman arrives tonight at the Black Cat, he’ll determine whether it’s a “loud” or “quiet” room. The frontman for Crooked Fingers will check the quality of the sound system and the proximity of the bar to the stage.

This careful scouting is crucial because the best songs on “Dignity and Shame,” the band’s fourth full-length release, have nothing in common with the typical rave-ups heard nightly at the club.

The instrumental “Islero” introduces the album’s themes of desire, love and forgiveness with a gentle, beguiling blend of Latin-tinged guitar, congas and trumpets. “Call to Love,” a duet featuring Mr. Bachman and Lara Meyerratken, captures the swirl of anxiety and hope that accompanies a new relationship. The six-piece band plunges into heavier territory with “Andalucia,” followed by a maelstrom of guitars and percussion during the conclusion of “Coldways.”

It’s all achieved with a level of nuance, sophistication and mature songwriting most clubgoers rarely experience. Mr. Bachman says his band mates “put our hearts on our sleeves” when writing and recording “Dignity and Shame.”

Some nights, even if the club reverberates with loud chatter and clinking glasses at the bar, Crooked Fingers will start with a soft number from the 35 tracks it has rehearsed.

“It’s a beautiful thing to get people quiet,” Mr. Bachman says.

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