Ahead of the New Hampshire primary in the Democratic presidential candidate race, the New York icons threw their weight behind the Vermont senator with a benefit concert. In the past decade the band’s live shows here in the UK have been pretty hit and miss. They can go from engaged and electrifying (BST, London, 2015) to wobbly and grumpy (Reading, 2011) or plagued by technical difficulties beyond their control (All Points East, 2019).
Last night though is already being hailed as a defining Strokes gig. The band look happier – and cooler – than they have in years, the setlist dropped in some deep cuts (‘The End Has No End’, ‘One Way Trigger’) and a cover of Talking Heads ‘Burning Down The House’, a nod to the fiery Sanders, his Feel The Bern slogan and the US House of Representatives he hopes to head up. It ended with a raucous ‘New York City Cops’, as Julian Casablancas taunted the actual cops who were trying to shut down the show amid a crowd stage-invasion.
A fan got up on stage and the cops pulled them off so the Strokes just said fuck it let’s fill the stage instead. They can’t kick everyone off pic.twitter.com/p4TugFzkM5
— Magical Mickster Mistoffelees (@KawaiitRiot) February 11, 2020
So where has this energy come from? A brand spanking new album, of course. ‘The New Abnormal’ – The Strokes’ first since 2014’s ‘Comedown Machine’ – has just been announced for an April 10 release. Rumblings of new music emerged when the band debuted ‘Ode To The Mets’ and ‘The Adults Are Talking’ in live shows last year and over the weekend, an old-school billboard teaser campaign across the globe.
It is a return with serious purpose. With each Stroke spending intermittent years pursuing different projects (Julian’s The Voidz, Hammond Jr’s solo career among others), new song ‘At The Door’ is the sound of a band with fresh musical touch-points and expanded horizons. If you’re expecting scrappy garage-rock from a stinky New York rehearsal room, you have come to the wrong place. But where this song takes the band is infinitely more interesting that a retread of past glories.
Opening with an honest, looping and serene synth line that calls to mind the warped electronics of 2006’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ or ‘Angles’ gem ‘Call Me Back’, the band are understated for the first half of the track. They’re in no rush, allowing the melody to bed in and for Julian’s vocal – perhaps one of his most impressive yet – to control the pace and moment. The second half is a less subtle flex. As tension builds, a throbbing beat threatens but dissipates as quickly as you notice it, while keyboard tickles offer a twinkling glimmer in the final moments. It’s gorgeous stuff.
A mellow return from a band who never want to look like they’re trying too hard, ‘At The Door’ offers an intriguing teaser to where ‘The New Abnormal’ might be heading. Other new songs like ‘Ode To The Mets’ and ‘The Adults Are Talking’ may have the force and familiarity of the Strokes sound, but this suggests that a deeper, more satisfying journey is about to take place.