To brand this particular gig as high profile would be something of an understatement. It was the return to the capital of The Strokes, New York City’s finest rock ‘n’ roll band, for the first time since their triumphant Alexandra Palace residency back in 2003.
What’s more, tonight’s venue, the 800 capacity ULU, was about a tenth of the size of the rooms that this bunch normally sell out at the click of a finger.
The occasion was the London leg of a hype inducing, whistle stop world tour, where the band would exclusively showcase tracks from their as yet unreleased third LP, First Impressions Of Earth. It would also be an opportunity to display to a handful of diehard fans, as well as a disproportionate number of famous faces (from Simon Le Bon to Jarvis Cocker) that after an extended absence of over two years, they’re still one of the best bands currently operating.
And it was instantly clear as soon as they took to the stage that they would have no problems in fulfilling the latter task. Julian Casablancas, clad in his now trademark military jacket combined with aviator sunglasses, mumbled some typically drunken words into the microphone before the band launched directly into the decidedly heavy new single Juicebox. As you would very much expect, the crowd erupted, sang every word and jumped around with an alarming sense of abandon. It was like they’d never been away.
The set tonight was essentially divided in two – the first section was comprised entirely of new songs, 11 to be precise, whilst the second half was reserved for their now almost legendary material from their first two albums. Of the new bunch, Juicebox already sounds like a Strokes classic, and is sure to be a calling card of theirs throughout 2006 and beyond. The slow burning On The Other Side was another early highlight, built around some characteristically lazy vocals and an incredibly sweet sounding chorus.
Vision Of Divison’s towering guitars and impassioned singing displayed they still have it in them to write incendiary tunes, whilst the thrilling tempo changes of 15 Minutes, combined with its hugely memorable refrain, suggested that any fears of a difficult third album should quickly be dispelled.
With the previewing complete, it was time to wheel out the hits – Last Nite, Hard To Explain, Someday, New York City Cops and Reptilia were amongst the chosen cuts, and were all dispatched with no shortage of flair and enthusiasm, all sounding tighter – and more exciting – than ever before. If time away is what’s required for them to step up gear so spectacularly, then all is forgiven.
The band then went off, before returning for a rare encore, possibly as a thank you to the fans who had camped outside in arctic conditions to obtain the Willy Wonka like golden wristbands to gain admission. “This is for all the crazy motherfuckers who camped outside, God bless you,” declared Casablancas, before rattling through three more songs, culminating in Take It Or Leave It.
The new album is out in just over a month, and on tonight’s evidence, it’s set to be a highlight of 2006. Sold out tours and festival headline slots will almost certainly ensue, and will represent yet another compulsive chapter in the history of this intriguing band. Frighteningly, it seems, the best is yet to come.