I didn’tlove the new stuff — except for “You Only Live Once,” which is like the Pretenders on cocaine and restraining orders, and “Ask Me Anything,” performed with just mellotron accompaniment and reminding me of Simple Minds and the Magnetic Fields. But I didn’t mind it either, since they got most of it out of the way up front a week ago Tuesday at Agganis Arena. On second listen, I decided First Impressions is made for these bigger spaces.
TEXTURE AND TONE: It's all about the grain of Julian's voice
Julian, newly sober (no one on stage had so much as a cigarette all night), looked as if he’d poached his wardrobe from my high-school closet circa ’87: tucked-in T-shirt, ill-fitting leather jacket, tight black Wrangler jeans, between-haircuts mop, puffy hightop Reeboks tied too tight. Mood: a gangly hesher yanked fresh from some pressing street hassle and plunked on stage. Students of metal might have discerned flashes of Thin Lizzy (“Red Light”) and Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (“The End Has No End”), as guitars feinted toward heavy with ominous triads and Blue Öyster Cultish pentatonics before withdrawing to more anthemic territory. Supersized ’70s LEDs flanked the stage and the drum riser, flashing mixing-board red and Tron blue and traffic-light green and pulsing squad-car blue/red/white. The Strokes were as loud as the lights, louder. They made girls dance. For “Under Control,” which may be their best song ever, Har Mar Superstar, a/k/a Sean Na Na, returned from his opening slot for an impromptu, second-time-ever duet. He and Julian ended up together on the floor, trading the line “I don’t want to do it your way,” Har Mar singing it an octave higher, with Julian’s crotch in his face. Beautiful.
So yeah, didn’t mind the new stuff, mostly because of Julian. The Strokes’ songs are palatable so long as they retain their texture and tone: it’s all about the grain of his voice, and how the overtone of grit overcomes and conquers the note, as if he were a grindcore singer. And what links the old and the new, which sound nothing alike, is that huge, insatiable, never-ending longing — suspension-bridge longing.
They delivered “Last Night” just a half step slower. Julian seemed to be searching for something to replace the easy conviction that attends a committed lush, and the searchlights searched for but didn’t always find him. It ended the way you’d want it to: Albert, that walking cartoon-bubble poof of hair, with his skinny, motion-blurred forearm whacking the guitar, uploaded the solo at the end of “Barely Legal.” It jumped out as gaudy and unrestrained as a Mardi Gras hooker — not Television, just made for TV. Julian sang the old songs like a soul singer stuck with a lounge lizard’s voice: the effect has always been calm in the face of chaos. He clutched the mic and sang “Take It or Leave It” with that last-shred-of-dignity howl and stood his ground like someone around whom there is action-movie shit flying. Dead calm.
: Live Reviews
, Guns N' Roses, Simple Minds, Thin Lizzy, More