Toward the end of the Strokes’ short set, Julian Casablancas, lead singer of the New York band, looked out over the sweaty, enthusiastic crowd at the Troubadour and smiled. “The last time we were in L.A.,” he said, “we played the Dragonfly. And it was empty.”
That was not the case on Saturday. The buzz band of the moment, the Strokes sold out the Troubadour, and ticketless fans were lined up outside the club offering up to $100 for a $10 ticket. All for a band that, to date, has released only two EPs.
Those who were able to get in saw a young band well-versed in the history of New York rock. The five wiry young men onstage, dressed in tight pants and suit jackets with the collars turned up, pummeled their way through taut, punchy guitar rock. Like their wardrobe, the Strokes’ music has its antecedents in such legendary bands as Blondie, the Velvet Underground and the Fleshtones.
With Fab Moretti’s crisply relentless drumming in the forefront, the Strokes’ energy never wavers. Guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi favor sharply strummed riffs that accent the downbeat with the non-stop power of an express train, and their solos veer from melodic constructions of Television’s Richard Lloyd to the buzz-saw distortions of the New York Dolls’ Johnny Thunders. Rounding out the sound, Casablancas’ vocals have the diffident, snotty yet vulnerable whine of Lou Reed. While they were onstage, it was possible to believe that you were transported back to Avenue A circa 1981, when the East Village teemed with bands who looked and sounded like the Strokes.
As well as they played, and with songs as cannily constructed as “The Modern Age” and “Hard to Explain” (from their upcoming RCA album “Is This It”), the Strokes couldn’t banish the feeling that everything they do is just a little too calculated. While their influences manifested a broad streak of garage band sloppiness, the Strokes are clean and precise, and they perform with the preening self-consciousness of a band well aware of its effects.
When Casablancas leapt into the audience (twice), it had all the spontaneity of a drill team. But with the charts filled with manicured rock that can’t come close to the Strokes’ verve, the New Yorkers are a breath of fresh air.
Still, given that their half-hour set consisted solely of songs from their album – no covers, nothing unrecorded – it remains to be seen if the Strokes will be able to build on the massive goodwill and publicity they have accrued.
Presented inhouse. Band: Julian Casablancas, Albert Hammond Jr., Nick Valensi, Nikolai Fraiture, Fab Moretti. Reviewed Aug. 3, 2001.