It’s been three long years since The Strokes released new music and that was last album ‘Comedown Machine’, the target for a lot of criticism and derision. In the aftermath, they were noncommittal veering on disinterested when they spoke of future plans and rarely played shows. When they did they could be at either end of the quality spectrum, often looking miserable and like they wanted to be anywhere else in the world when they were on stage.
Now, though, they seem like a band revitalised. Their last few performances in 2015, including Hyde Park and Austin City Limits, were surprisingly on point and their headline set at New York’s Governors Ball upped the ante even more. Maybe it’s the release of new material in the form of the ‘Future Present Past’ EP or just that there’s been enough time for the band to indulge in other projects until they’re happy to return to each other, but, whatever it is, it’s sent them rocketing back up to their peak.
From the off, the band look happy to be there and Julian Casablancas sounds like he’s up for some fun. “Well, hello there,” he chirpily drawls after ‘Soma’ to the huge, eager crowd in front of him. It’s a peppy introduction to a set that’s slick and tight and a hell of a lot of fun.
At the band’s warm-up show in Port Chester last week (May 31), the setlist featured a heap of deep cuts and tracks that they hadn’t performed for years. Tonight’s set features a few more crowdpleasers for the non-diehards, but there are still a few rarities thrown in for good measure. ‘Red Light’, from ‘First Impressions Of Earth’, precedes a cover the quintet haven’t played since 2004. “This is an old Clash cover we used to do,” says Julian ahead of a rowdy version of ‘Clampdown’ to huge cheers.
Elsewhere, two ‘Future Present Past’ tracks make their festival debut. ‘Threat Of Joy’ slots in between ‘Soma’ and ‘What Ever Happened?’, sounding as familiar and classic as either. ‘Drag Queen’ comes later after a flawless and furious ‘Take It Or Leave It’, its swooning bassline perfect for a dance under the glow of traffic rushing past on the RFK bridge. Only ‘OBLIVIUS’ is left out of the setlist, possibly because its noisier style would be discordant with the rest of the set.
Instead, the set ends with six solid songs in a row – ‘Heart In A Cage’, a resoundingly anthem ‘Last Nite’, ‘Trying Your Luck’, ‘Reptilia’, ‘Hard To Explain’ and ‘Juicebox’. It’s before the latter that Julian announces “This is our last scheduled song of the night”, with a little hint that it might not be the last we see of them tonight. The song comes to a close, the band leave the stage and people start to stream towards the gates, aware that The Strokes are not ones for encores. But then, they make an unexpected return, Julian acknowledging how out of the ordinary this is for them. “We stopped doing encores after our first three albums,” he explains. “YOLO”, he adds launching into a version of ‘You Only Live Once’ that sums up the whole set perfectly – fun, full of life and evidence of a band back at their very best.