Thankfully, the Strokes quashed those fears shortly after hitting the stage at around 9:30 p.m. to the sounds of “Barely Legal,” from its 2001 debut, “Is This It.” For more than an hour-and-a-half, the band played with the fierce determination and prowess of a new act fighting to make it in a world cluttered with music. Their demeanors were relaxed but their performance was anything but, a hit-loaded set that showed off the band at its absolute best.
Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas’ voice has deepened and sharpened with age. It possesses the huskiest of lows onstage while still managing to swerve into sweet falsetto on tracks like “One Way Trigger.” Recently, concert-goers have taken the singer to task for his lackluster and pitchy live appearances with new group Julian Casablancas + the Voidz, but he demonstrated no such passivity on Saturday night.
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Not only did he sound great — his best in years, really — but Casablancas also gelled with his bandmates for the first time in ages, bopping around the stage and playing off Albert Hammond, Jr.’s energy like they were long-lost brothers reunited at last. Sure, Casablancas had a few lyrical flubs here and there, coming in early on some verses and fudging others entirely, but fans forgave him quickly by screaming the proper words back at the stage with double the sheepish singer’s fervor.
Throughout the night, the Strokes weaved cleverly through singles, deep cuts and B-sides, crafting a perfect emotional arc in the process. “Angles’” sleeper “Machu Picchu” slunk around with its funky bass line, dangerously close to falling apart had it not been guided by drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s careful-handed percussion. Later, “Take It Or Leave It” sent the audience running towards the stage in search of a moshpit, followed by the more relaxed pop-leaning “Trigger,” an under appreciated diamond in the rough that finally got its moment to properly shine.
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Halfway through the band’s 18-song set, Casablancas paused to reflect on the Strokes’ history. “Nikolai [Fraiture] and I, we came here once to see Jane’s Addiction play,” he said, remembering the gig with a smile, adding, “I’m an old man with old tales, but we’re fucking back.”
Surprisingly, some of the Strokes’ most agile sounding songs of the night were culled from newer material. Tracks like “Welcome to Japan” and “Trigger” received their live debuts on Saturday but slipped into the band’s set like they’d been there all along. Other songs like “Happy Ending” finally made sense. While it flatlined on “Comedown Machine,” it sparked to life in concert as Hammond Jr. let his fingers nimbly fly over his guitar.
Nothing struck a chord with the audience quite like the hits though. The undeniable power of tracks like “Hard to Explain,” “12:51,” “Someday,” and “Reptilia” whipped people into a frenzy of flailing limbs and hoarsely screamed choruses.
“Do you want to tell them the news?” Casablancas asked Hammond Jr. after nearly 90 minutes of music. “The news? Oh the news,” the guitar player responded with a smile, “is that this is the last song.” The stage went black, the audience groaned, and then the spotlight shined on Hammond Jr. as he struck the opening chords of “Last Night.” The response was deafening. Though the Strokes returned for an encore — a quick but raucous rendition of B-side “New York City Cops” — the moment encapsulated everything that’s ever been good about one of the city’s most exciting rock bands.
“Me, I ain’t ever gonna understand,” Casablancas sang, his voice raw with emotion, before pointing to his band mates and shouting, “wait for it, here comes the part you’ve all been waiting for!” Fans had simply been waiting to see the Strokes come together so harmoniously for years. The evening’s blistering perfection was just the cherry on top.
Here’s the full set list from the show:
“Welcome to Japan”
“Take It or Leave It”
“One Way Trigger”
“Heart In a Cage”
“Hard to Explain”
“The End Has No End”
“You Only Live Once”
“New York City Cops”