An observation from a fan: the past few years I’ve felt that The Strokes have struggled with being The Strokes. Watching them live, you can perceive invisible lines between band members, fractious relationships resulting in onstage barriers.
Last year’s calamitous set at All Points East seemed to be a profound nadir. Yes, the set list was expertly thought through, and yes, they did have a point to prove – but appalling sound where this writer was stood left much of the set incomprehensible, sparking absolute fury from large sections of the crowd.
But last night The Strokes finally felt like The Strokes again. Perhaps it’s the promise of new material, perhaps it’s their recent chaotic show in support of Bernie Sanders, but the New York band felt united in a way they haven’t for some considerable time.
A real back-to-basics set, The Strokes emerged fashionably late, playing a raucous, off kilter ‘Someday’, with their ultra-cool stance matched to that tight-but-loose feel that seems to channel The Stones’ addictive venom but with a sense of New York street hustle. Yes, it’s all an illusion, but it’s a stunning elixir, an engaging apparition – put simply, we want to believe again.
It’s a set list rooted in the band’s bedrock, while finding room for new material. ‘Automatic Stop’ is delivered with a sneering swagger, while ‘Heart In A Cage’ is a platform for a seismic vocal from Julian Casablancas, whose Jack Daniel’s soaked delivery strikes that balance between largesse and heartfelt.
‘Take It Or Leave’ is exhumed, its biting riff thriving on the guitar interplay between Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi. Drummer Fab Moretti holds down the rock-hard beat on ‘Hard To Explain’, while bassist Nikolai Fraiture is resolute throughout, his ice-cold expression scarcely shifting amid the palpable delirium of the crowd.
‘You Only Live Once’ is a moment of union between band and crowd, before The Strokes play something brand new – no one bothers to point out the title, but the shock of the unheard feels thrilling, tantalising amid their storied catalogue. Indeed, new single ‘Bad Decisions’ – unveiled mere hours before the show – is greeted rapturously, its return-to-roots feel encapsulating a set delivered with all the confidence of a band on home ground.
In a way, they are. As Julian observes, London took to The Strokes before New York, with his semi-ironic monologue thanking the “superior British tastes” for uncovering their “nuance”. There’s little nuance in a hectic ‘Last Nite’, blasted out at the Ramones-esque garage punk chugger it truly is, the band bellowing out each note, united in a way that few – if any – recent European shows have presented.
The encore opens with ‘Juicebox’, before the snappy set ends with the one-two punch of ‘What Ever Happened?’ and a pointed ‘Reptilia’. It’s over all-too-quickly, and leaves out a host of fan favourites, but there’s no complaints, no murmurings of dissent. Sometimes remote and monosyllabic onstage Julian Casablancas clearly loves every moment, beaming through a playful, high-spirited set.
Departing with scarcely a look over their shoulders, The Strokes feel like a gang again.
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