Didn't think it was possible to sellout a free show? Here's how to do it: Invite The Strokes to play after five long years on hiatus, make the weather a perfectly warm for a spring afternoon and, oh yeah, schedule it on the one day of the year that everyone takes off work to drink all day.
The Strokes (and the hype surrounding their return to recording and touring) managed to cram what felt like half the city of Austin and their brother onto the premises
at the biggest of all SXSW venues on Thursday night. The dangerously large crowd numbers led authorities to close down the public strip of riverbank around the Auditorium Shores stage to any additional revelers after about 7:45 p.m. (The Strokes started a little after 8 p.m.). But the well-buzzed lucky ones already kickin' it on the lawn got to soak up a powerhouse set of straight ahead rock and roll by (still) one of the tightest, most beloved live bands around.
The Strokes played mostly from the first two albums, starting with a propulsive “What Ever Happened,” then “The Modern Age” and the new back-to-what-they-do-best single “Under Cover of Darkness,” which everyone already seemed to know. They played a scant two from the crappily received third album – what was it called again? “Dunno. . .play some more from Is This It ,” was what the ecstatic crowd communicated strongly. The band delivered, but the chilly interaction between Julian Casablancas and guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi was painfully obvious – these guys are just not into each other anymore.
George Lewis Jr. (a.k.a. Twin Shadow) opened the show with his Bowie-esque stylings and synth-saturated dark pop. Twin Shadow had the front-row girls swooning, but for the rest of the crowd, they provided an easy soundtrack to accompany the warm afternoon vibe.
Out front among the food tents and beer garden revelry, VIP passes and a backstage ticket (to meet the Strokes!) were up for grabs to the winner of the un-official SXSW Air Guitar Invitational. Passes went to the guy with Shamrocks on his face who'd had 19 beers and no shoes – congratulations!