Strokes : Leeds University Union

Who knows how long the magic will last – but for now, no-one can touch them...

Americans probably haven’t had such a warm welcome in Leeds since they came bearing nylons in World War II. Overpaid, oversexed and over here, Strokes

confront a feverish crowd in the middle of the most dramatic week in their career so far – one of those great pop moments when everything goes exactly right. Last Wednesday, at the Brits, they were the ideal combination of sloppy and cool in performance and acceptance speech alike. In a couple of days’ time, they’ll crown their year with a clutch of NME Carling Awards. But Leeds is the place where on a Saturday night, Strokes

ondense all the extraneous excitements into a landmark hour of flawless rock ‘n’ roll.

Earlier in the evening, watched from the balcony by their New York patrons and White Stripes (Meg, off duty, was wearing - gasp - a blue top), The Libertines had provided a taster of why they might be your next new favourite band, while French duo Stereo Total brought the comedy Eurotrash vibes. Then, an intro tape including Ennio Morricone, Ramones,Michael Jackson

’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ and ‘Billie Jean’ and finally Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ further illustratedStrokes’ good taste. And then finally they’re here, lit so gloomily that they look like the wraiths from ‘Lord Of The Rings’, swathed in dry ice under a static glitter ball and playing a slowed-down version of ‘The Modern Age’. The crowd experiences a mass adrenalin power surge. Well, you just would, wouldn’t you?

The show includes all the songs Strokes

have ever released, and two they haven’t. After a version of ‘Someday’ which nails the muscular wistfulness absent in pop music sinceSmiths, we hear the first of them. Still lacking a title (well, why rush these things?) it’s ska-tinged, has a brilliant tune, incites mass pogoing, and is the perfect development from ‘Is This It’. (Older readers should think Suede

meetsMadness, or maybeBlondie.)

As the lights remain dim – so dim that they’re are visible only in silhouette –Strokes

tackle ‘New York City Cops’. The most controversial song in their repertoire thanks to September 11, it’s so triumphantly anthemic that it makes you feel sorry for the Americans denied it on the US edition of the album. After a typically graceful apology for cancelling their previous Leeds gig, Julian leads the rest of the band into the elusive and ambiguous ‘Soma’, while ‘When It Started’ and ‘Is This It’ ensure the audience keeps foaming.

Strokes have a slim catalogue, but there isn’t a bad song in it; onstage, they don’t put a foot wrong. A triple whammy of ‘Barely Legal’, ‘Hard To Explain’ and ‘Last Nite’ (with slightly more explicit lyrics – "they ain’t never gonna understand… shit") causes audience meltdown, while ‘Trying My Luck’ adds a note of melancholy to night of roaring triumph. Then comes the first British airing of ‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’. Paced at about the same tempo as ‘Is This It’, the chorus goes "Meet me in the bathroom/That’s what she said/I don’t mind… if it’s you". Both louche and touching, it’s a summary of everything that makes Strokes great.

By the time ‘Take It Or Leave It’ rolls around, it’s a shoo-in for rock ‘n’ roll gig of the year. There is, of course, no encore (five yanks… and they’re off). But no-one goes home disappointed. Confident, sensitive, thrilling and sexy, Strokesmake being in a great rock ‘n’ roll band look almost disgustingly easy. Who knows how long the magic will last – but for now, no-one can touch them.

Alex Needham

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