"Hey, it's Friday night, alright!" At mid-point of the set, the crowd at the Paradise was going wild. The usually reticent, erstwhile Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas reacted to the enthusiasm of the sold-out crowd, whom had braved the elements for Casablancas's first night of his first solo US tour. But just as soon as he began sharing in the revelry of his followers, he pulled back, rejoinding his Friday night fever: "But you know, now that I think about it, I haven't had a day job in a long time, so I don't even know why I would care."
Luckily for Casablancas, his audience didn't care either — partly because they couldn't make out what he was saying amidst the din between songs, but mostly because they were neatly divided into two groups. First, there were the dudes who were there to whoop it up and have a good time (part of the old maxim that once you establish yourself early on in your show-biz career as being an inarticulate drunk — as Julian did during his early blotto Strokes days — you will forever have an inexplicable following of drunk party dudes who will follow your every twist and turn with a holler and a raised plastic cup). And then there were the women who were there to ogle their indie-rock dreamboat. I'm guessing he could have played polka favorites in a tutu and still had everyone screaming.
Thing is, Casablancas's solo debut, Phrazes for the Young (RCA), is a bizarre and twisted romp through sophisticated musical stylings that, especially in a live setting, sound light years away from the compact garage minimalism of early Strokes. This was evident from the first notes of the show, when Casablancas's six-piece backing-band strolled out and proceeded to bleat the intro to Phrazes headscratcher "Ludlow Street." When the song kicks in, it's a drunken psych-country waltz, but the opening coda is a dark, majestic processional that wouldn't sound out of place in an early '70s Alejandro Jodorowsky film. When the J Man finally strolled out, he struck an odd figure as an artist who has always liberally borrowed from '80s iconography, Casablancas is finally hitting the Mad Max fashion period that so many artists of the time inevitably hit. In worn leather pants, a bullet belt, and an oversized weather-beaten biker jacket, he seemed eons away from the baleful early-20s deer-in-headlights that hit the big time nine years ago. As he shadow-danced his way through the dense soup-arrangements from Phrazes, you could see Casablancas finally starting to show his true freak flag.
Of course, the two unscreamed questions on everyone's minds tonight were "Is this solo thing real?" and "When are the Strokes coming back?" Honestly, on the strength of tonight's show, I'm not sure why he would bother going back to the Strokes. Casablancas seems far more engaged in his own intricate (and almost downright capital-P prog) material, like the intense "River of Brakelights" and "Left & Right in the Dark" (both early set highlights).