The Troubadour, January 6
I like the new Strokes album as much as I could possibly like a Strokes album, for the very reasons the rest of the world may shrug at it. The world wants one thing from the Strokes: trousers. But this album, with its time changes and C and D parts and potentially meaningful lyrics, breaks that contract. Doesn’t mean I’ll be up all night trying to figure these songs out on guitar or anything, but I did stay up too late cleaning the house. (Is This It was maybe good for folding a shitload of laundry, but listening to the new one is an all-night, all-house, rearrange-the-furniture, proto-OCD-type situation.)
Anyway, this fans-only, half-secret show at the Troubadour, held just a few days after the album’s release, had a feeling of innocence to it. On this night, the band and their most faithful devotees communed in the calm before the shitstorm — and, especially, before conventional wisdom could deliver a verdict on the Strokes’ Current Relevance. This was a suspended moment. The band seemed well-fed, rested and — judging by guitarist Nick Valensi’s hairdo — happy to re-don the World’s Casually Coolest Band mantle at a moment’s notice, should it be offered. (They even started 90 minutes late — totally calculated. And, yeah, there were celebrities, too, like Keanu, Drew, Mike D., Kirsten Dunst, John Taylor of Duran Duran, whatnot. And that Eva Mendes is no faker. She knows all the words.)
The 90-minute show was heavy on the new shit and the old shit, which was for the best. I still have no idea how Valensi gets a synthesizer sound out of his Epiphone hollow-body, but he does it more than ever, with more delicately conceived riffage than ever, and that’s also good. In fact — drummer and singer notwithstanding — the Strokes are becoming a guitar band, more than ever. And that’s good.
They’re also becoming a reggae band — and not just via Television. (I mean, when Brandon Boyd of Incubus is genuinely bobbing his pony-tailed head to your music — “On the Other Side,” specifically — you know something’s crunchy.) That’s okay, too.
They’re also becoming Yes.
And drummer Fab Moretti sounds slightly less mechanized live (and looks cool hands-free smoking for a whole song), and that’s also good.
But my favorite song was the new “15 Minutes,” which opens in waltz time and gradually builds to a freefalling climax of descending scales and frenzied instrument-battering (Valensi even broke a string tonight). Do I hear a dark-horse second single?
Ultimately, though, the show proved that despite their ambitions and influences, the Strokes are really a club band, after all, and should only be seen in clubs, ever, where the hoi polloi humanize them, and where Small Greatness is enough. Maybe singer/songwriter Julian Casablancas is to blame for their main shortcoming: The Strokes have all the right moving parts, but there’s something essential missing at the heart of this machine — something you might call Love. Not romantic love, necessarily. Just .?.?. love.
On this night, though, the fans’ love more than filled the void. And with sweaty cell-cams shoved in their faces, an incredible geek-boy jumping onstage to dance, and some joyous Bettie Page girl climbing a pole to flaunt her cellulite-positive ass during “Last Nite” — it was impossible not to like the Strokes, at the very least.