Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Strokes @ Roundhouse, London

19 February 2020

The Strokes

The Strokes

It is 19 years since The Strokes’ debut album. How many pairs of Converse have been bought and destroyed in that time? How many t-shirts advertising obscure brands and unsuccessful sports teams have transitioned from garb for doing the painting in to Saturday night party wear in that time? How many leather jackets have gone from desperate, middle aged, golf club casual lunges for cool to Lower East Side thrift shop find in that time?

A lot. Many. And a few. But through the detritus of their sartorial influence, still The Strokes persist. Either the archetypal New York hipster band, or the spark which ignited the first major musical scene of the millennium, or even just those guys with the good hair who went to Swiss finishing school and wrote Someday.

Which they open with, and which is greeted with the kind of rapture normally associated with visiting deities. Given their reputation, the relative intimacy of this venue and their less than prolific recent output, it’s not surprising to find rapture as a common response, but it is interesting to find where it is most liberally spread.

The numbers from Is This It get it, predictably. The aforementioned Someday, Take It Or Leave It, Hard To Explain and Last Nite are all roared back. They remain hermetically sealed instances of garage rock perfection; timeless, flawless and totally thrilling.

Not least because these aren’t just passable reproductions. These are well delivered instantiations, by a band who are as tightly wound as you could have hoped. And it is easy to forget how perfectly locked in they are. There’s riff after riff, song after song, where guitars wind round each other in frenetic, tightening loops, propelled urgently onwards towards their destination through the surefooted precision of the basslines and the perpetual motion of Fabrizio Moretti’s drums.

Hell, even Albert Hammond Jr cracks a smile during Hard To Explain. But the response is equally effusive for the new-wave melancholy of Heart In A Cage and the pernickety stabs of Automatic Stop. Both of which suggest that time and distance have made us think that maybe, just maybe, Room On Fire and First Impressions Of Earth were actually far better than history suggests.

Throughout, there’s always such a difference between the instrumentation, which is astonishingly taut, and the lead singer, who is astonishingly not. Most of the time, the swing between brilliance and indulgence can be captured as songs which Julian Casablancas swaggers across versus the ones he staggers across.

In the later camp, it appears he’s forgotten the words of You Only Live Once and is instead scatting through the start of the second verse. It leads into a weird little interlude that only half the band seem interested in, some vague muttering over a calypso-like riff that quickly peters out in nothing.

But in the former, happily, are the two new tracks. Casablancas is the picture of restraint on The Adults Are Talking, providing the anchor on which a naggingly incessant bassline can chug and Hammond and Nick Valensi can chuck increasingly intricate squalls at, while the magnificent ’80s-rom-com theme tune Bad Decision is an ideal backdrop for him to dolefully croon his way through.

And despite kind of buggering up the encore by failing to agree which song constitutes the beginning of the end of the set and which song constitutes the end of the beginning of the set, the three song closing sequence (Juicebox, What Ever Happened? and Reptilia) is little short of spectacular.

Here, there and everywhere, they really do do brevity beautifully. Every song is the optimal length, as they Goldilock their way through numbers neither too long, nor too short, but just right. Yet somehow, stacked up next to one another across a 15 song set, it does just leave a faint feeling of unfulfillment. Like they’ve not yet quite scratched the itch. Less is this it, more was that it?

Still, leaving you wanting more is a hell of a lot better than leaving you wanting less. Perhaps, after almost two decades, that’s better than we could have hoped.

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