ACL Fest: RZA, the dude from Interpol bring sound and fury to Samsung stage

Forget Bankz and Steelz, they should have billed this early Friday afternoon Samsung stage performance as “the dude from Interpol and RZA roll out their vanity side project.” Get the brand recognition where you can, fellas.

You’re not the only one stuck at work, and the walkable crowd here showed. But despite the thin herd on hand to christen the ACL big stage, the pair of journeyman New Yorkers spent their rock-tinged hip-hop set exuberantly courting a bunch of teens in ironic “Reagan Bush ’84” tank tops.

Banks & Steelz, featuring RZA on keyboard and vocals, perform on the first day of ACL 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

Banks & Steelz, featuring RZA on keyboard and vocals, perform on the first day of ACL 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

The logo for Banks and Steelz is a pair of brass knuckles and a switchblade fused together as one. It’s familiar Kung fu imagery that resonated with the vape enthusiasts. Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” served as cinematic intro music. RZA, the enigmatic producer of the Wu-Tang Clan, played second fiddle early on doing backup falsetto vocals, behind the keys.

Paul Banks, 2002’s most hyped indie rock frontman, has made clear in interviews that he’s not a fan of rap-rock combinations. Certainly this is a far cry from the thrash-infused days of Saliva or Public Enemy tag-teaming with Anthrax. This is basically hazy, washed-out indie rock with intermittent philosophizing from the band’s rap legend.

“Good afternoon, motherf*****s,” RZA said. “We call this the lunch time special. We only have one rule: You must have a good time.”

The music is a muddy train ride between Shaolin and Brooklyn’s turn-of-the-century post-punk revival clubs. The sound clash works in spurts and stays interesting, but recall RZA is a producer first lacking the charisma of crew brethren like Method Man, who can calmly win over and mold a crowd. Call-and-response pleas we’re flat, but the project found its footing a few songs in on debut single “Love and War.” When RZA bragged about already hitting the sauce, people raised their cans in approval.

“It sounded bad from back there, but up here it sounds pretty good,” an onlooker next to me said.

The pair have been collaborating as buddies for five years, but their debut album “Anything But Words” landed last month. For its uneven presentation, when RZA dipped into vintage Wu-Tang mode and rhymed “molecules” with “fortress of solitude,” the winding circuits coalesced and came alive. He also closed the show with a blistering, paranoid android freestyle about the state.

The buddy cop interplay was also fun and earned. When RZA asked Banks if he has ever lusted after someone else’s girlfriend, he deadpanned: “That has happened.”

Before “Giant” RZA unified the crowd and dedicated the uptempo rocker to “underdogs.” The synth-blaring,  air-raid jam didn’t move mountains, but hey people stood up from their blankets to watch.

The band is best suited for an Emo’s-sized venue, the color palette isn’t built for happy blankets in a park. But the campaign expertly raised awareness, and I look forward to adding these nifty gems to Spotify playlists.


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