I’ve seen The Strokes great, and I’ve seen The Strokes terrible. The band’s return to the stage landed squarely in the middle Saturday night.
- The Strokes
- The Cosmopolitan
- March 12
The New York rock quintet’s first full-on (i.e. non-festival/non-festival warm-up) U.S. show in almost five years was notable for the frenzied reception of the Chelsea Ballroom’s sellout crowd, the live debut of five songs off upcoming fourth album Angles and little else ... unless you count the well-trimmed domes of previously furry-headed guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. and drummer Fabrizio Moretti.
The Strokes played a bunch of songs off adored 10-year-old debut Is This It, a handful off solid follow-up Room on Fire and just two off forgettable third disc First Impressions of Earth—all presented just as you’d expect. Frontman Julian Casablancas wore sunglasses and a leather jacket and postured between numbers (“Some people hate Vegas. Fuck those people ... I fuckin’ love it.”); the other four guys acted like, well, four other guys; and the sound mix sounded about as murky as it did the last time I saw them. (At this point I’m assuming a lack of sonic clarity is part of their shtick.)
The new tunes ranged from the unexpected—the throbbing, Joy Division-y “You’re So Right” and the glammy “Gratisfaction”—to hooky, mid-tempo stuff more in the band’s usual wheelhouse (“Under Cover of Darkness,” “Taken for a Fool”). None blew me away, none seemed awful and all five sapped momentum from the show, as unfamiliar numbers tend to do.
One fan, standing a few feet in front me, treated the 75-minute exercise (and in his case, it really was exercise) like a religious experience, rolling out a series of dramatic poses and screaming “We’re not worthy!” with total sincerity. Me? I found myself mostly detached from the action onstage (raging versions of “Juicebox” and “New York City Cops,” aside), pondering The Strokes’ strange early-2000s success. Was there ever anything particularly special about them? Or were they simply the right band at the right time, when rock ’n’ roll need “saving” from Limp Bizkit and Creed? I’m thinking the answer lies squarely in the middle.