What these shows do prove is that everyone who cried 'hype!' should be ignored once and for all...
Amid the boom and crush of backstage chaos, The Strokes‘ bassist Nikolai Fraiture is waiting quietly at the bar. As pale and as pretty as a Warhol superstar, he thinks about tonight’s show with a shrug. “It was fun,” he whispers. Is he relieved that their European tour is finally nearing its end? “Yes,” he says. “And no.”
They might not be effusive answers, but they seem perfectly fair. For the question that springs to mind most often during the last of The Strokes‘ British dates is not ‘Are they all my favourite song?’ nor ‘Are they all my favourite Stroke?’ but ‘Christ, what must it be like to be in this band right now?’. If it’s anything like watching them, they’re the luckiest people alive. OK, that might be difficult to prove scientifically – but what these shows do prove is that everyone who cried ‘hype!’ should be ignored once and for all.
Nothing less than the sweeping statement will do, because right now this band are capable of explosive, life-affirming, glee-inducing, of-the-moment magic. There’s a sense of event in the air that leaves you wondering where the loaves and fishes are, that all-too-rare static of expectation.
“Why do we love The Strokes?” muse 19-year-olds, Ed and Crispin, who have travelled up from Somerset to see the show. “It’s hard to explain.” Very funny. “They’re unbelievable, so exciting!” says Kelly from Swindon. “I imagine it’s how people felt with The Rolling Stones or [a][/a].”Misha from Japan keeps it simple: “Julian Casablancas!” she yells, doing the ear-shattering work of a thousand speakers. No longer a matter for curiosity and suspicion, The Strokes have become loved.
Well, of course. This is a band who are so sharply defined, you can tell them apart even when they’re in silhouette. A band who – never mind the singer – sometimes has you splitting your attention between the guitarist and the drummer. A band who play 14 perfect songs, no encores. An embarrassment of riches? Hey, just blushing with delight.
Admittedly, on Thursday night, they get off to a subdued start – new song ‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’ is too enervated to be a dynamic opener – but by the time the audience are shrieking the tremolo “Wooooh!” on ‘The Modern Age’, they’ve hit their beautifully tailored stride. For every second of impeccable rock’n’roll flash – the vertiginous rollercoaster pause in ‘Hard To Explain’, the anticipation before the chorus of ‘New York City Cops’ – there’s another of real poignancy. Julian holds on to the mic like he’s sliding off a barstool and they trip into ‘Someday’: [I]”When we was young, oh man did we have fun/Always, always”[/I], he sings in his volatile drawl and, basically, it’s heartbreak on a spoon, youth and experience and creeping ennui melding into something genuinely poetic.
If the first night is expectant, the second night is charged like Sellafield. They start with an excellent, untitled new song, its hectic chorus instantly changing the dynamic of the set. They’re more animated, too, not just exuding cool but actively projecting it; Julian striking himself on the head, throwing bottles in the air and repeatedly plunging into the audience like a hip lemming. Sure, the songs are delivered like a punch but it’s also the little things that count: Albert holding his head so close to his guitar during ‘Soma’ it seems he’s trying to cram all the noise right inside his skull; Fab, powering ‘Barely Legal’ with that luscious drum stutter; the kiss Julian plants on Albert as ‘Last Nite’ swings into life; the glorious finale, ‘Take It Or Leave It’, where Albert leaps onto the drum riser and convulses alongside Fab until you think their hair might knot together and garotte them. A rock’n’roll band and a pop group, a perfect synthesis of form and content.
By the end, security are locked in a sex-or-glory struggle with the audience over the stagediving Julian, jealously clinging to his legs as the crowd pull him into their grasp. Nikolai throws his bass into the drums, there’s feedback chaos and suddenly they’re gone.
But not that far. Backstage at the Academy is as packed as you’d imagine: Travis are here, and Fran enthuses unaffectedly about tonight’s show – “I love them! They look great and sound great!” – while a noticeably off-duty Louis Theroux shows his credentials by discussing band favourites Weezer. When The Strokes themselves appear, it’s slightly ridiculous: Fab is stopped for a chat or a hug at every breath he takes, swung from arm to arm in a mad country dance; Nick and consort Amanda De Cadenet breeze through like they’re off to meet Bianca Jagger and Truman Capote, instead stopping for a quick summit with Dougie from Travis; while Julian lounges on the staircase like it’s an NYC fire escape.
Again, what must it be like to be in this band right now? Until next time, Strokes