The long running and utterly boring debate about whether indie music is dead, alive or on life support seemed a moot point at All Points East in London’s Victoria Park on Saturday, where guitars ruled supreme from noon to night. And in a line-up that boasted the best of a new generation (goodtime pub-rock band The Nude Party, unrefined punks Viagra Boys) and established modern greats (slacker hero Courtney Barnett, Jarvis Cocker’s new project Jarv.Is), it was The Strokes rightfully taking the glory as the headline band.
The Strokes are a band who play by their own rules, and who exist in a world of paradox. Fans bay for new material but treat it with indifference when it’s delivered. Where once it seemed like they’d be the kind of band to implode spectacularly in a backstage punch-up, they instead settled into a tolerable semi-retirement, never folding the band but putting it on permanent back-burner. Live shows, therefore, are few and far between, and the last time they played in the UK was almost three years ago at London’s Hyde Park – another enormous outdoor gig. They come, they slay one massive event, they fuck off. But such was always their modus operandi: never be seen to be trying too hard.
Tonight, they prove why they’ve earned that luxury. The fab five open with two tracks from 2006 – ‘Heart In A Cage’ and ‘You Only Live Once’, possibly the most underrated of their early singles. But there are boos from the crowd – perplexingly, for the band, you presume – as a protest at the quietness of the sound, which from where I was standing seemed to be noted at the sound desk. The volume is cranked up from that point, though not as much as the audience might have liked.
Oblivious, the band keep a run of hits and fan favourites going throughout the totally flab-free set; fans cheer at the opening riffs of tracks like ‘Hard To Explain’ and ‘New York City Cops’, and sing along not just to vocals, but to guitar solos too. It’s just about the most crowd-pleasing setlist they’ve played on their latest run of shows, and a closing volley of ’12:51’, ‘Razorblade’, ‘Soma’ and ‘Someday’ typifies that. New track ‘The Adults Are Talking’, recently debuted on US TV, was not played; an odd choice, perhaps, but a confirmation that tonight is about nostalgia, leaning heavily on the band’s best-loved first three albums, from their imperial first five years. . When they return for an encore, it’s to bash out ‘Is This It’, the frenetic ‘Juicebox’ and the searing ‘Last Night’. And then it’s over, too quickly, and you wish they’d do the whole thing again from start to finish.
For a band who had a phase of phoning in live shows, tonight they’re on whip-smart form, rattling through their hits with zero fuss and – blimey – actually seeming to enjoy themselves. There’s nothing that might be considered showboating – Julian mumbles a few words to the crowd here and there, about having woken up only four hours ago, and about how he’d been told not to say anything sarcastic on stage, which he managed to do sarcastically. It was, from start to finish, a masterclass in the effortless cool that made us love them in the first place.
It’s now 18 years since the New Yorkers released their game-changing debut, ‘Is This It’, and their DNA can be found in artists throughout the line-up. If the band themselves have aged well, looking pretty much the same as they ever did, minus a few of Albert Hammond Jr’s curly locks, their music is still as fresh as the day it was born. Come back soon, please.
The Strokes setlist:
Heart In A Cage
You Only Live Once
Ize Of The World
The Modern Age
Hard To Explain
Meet Me In The Bathroom
I Can’t Win
On The Other Side
New York City Cops
What Ever Happened?
Is This It