About last night: the Strokes at Agganis Arena

The Strokes
April 25 at Agganis Arena
Photos by Carina Mastrocola

Didn’t love the new stuff -- except for "You Only live Once," which is fucking great, like the Pretenders on cocaine and restraining orders; and "Ask Me Anything," with just the mellotron, which everyone seems to hate but reminds us of Simple Minds and Magnetic Fields -- but didn't mind it either, because they got most of it out of the way right up front. (Their first three songs: "Heart in a Cage," "Red Light," Juicebox.") First Impressions is made for these bigger spaces and lives here more easily and maybe shouldn’t be heard anywhere else. Julian, newly sober -- no one on stage had so much as a cigarette all night -- looked like he’d poached his wardrobe from OTD’s high school closet circa 1987: t-shirt tucked under ill fitting leather jacket, tight, too long wrangler black jeans, between-haircuts mop, puffy high-top Reeboks tied (again) too tight. A gangly hesher yanked fresh from some pressing street hassle and plunked onstage.

As usual, an astute student of metal could discern flashes of Thin Lizzy ("Red Light") and Guns N Roses ("The End Has No End"), guitars that feinted heavy with ominous triads ("Eyes of the World") and Blue Oyster Cultish pentatonics ("Electricityscape") before withdrawing to more anthemic territory. Supersized ’70s LED lights flanked the stage and the drum riser, flashing mixing-board red and Tron blue and traffic-light green and pulsing squadcar blue-red-white. They were as loud as the lights, louder, and they made girls dance like you have no fucking idea. For "Under Control," which after all is said and done is maybe our favorite Strokes song of all, Har Mar Superstar a/k/a Sean Na Na returned from his opening slot for a second-time-ever, mostly-impromptu duet. They ended up together on the floor, trading the line "I dont want to do it your way,” Har Mar singing it a full octave higher, with Julian's crotch in his face. Beautiful.

So yeah, didn't mind the new stuff, because of Julian, and because we're metal kids, which means for us it's about texture and tone, about the grain of the voice, and how when he sings hard the overtone of grit overcomes and conquers the note, like a grindcore singer. And what that texture means to us is big huge insatiable never-ending longing. Fucking suspension-bridge longing. It's Julian singing "Vision of Division," which starts out like the Stooges and ends with him slumped over the monitor bellowing "HOW LONG MUST I WAIT?"

They delivered "Last Night" low and away, a half step slower, because you can’t mean it doubletime every night. How could you? Julian seemed to be searching for something to replace the easy conviction that attends a committed lush, and the searchlights searched for him but did not find him, and at one point he had this to say:

"I’m going to give you a review of 98-point-something. You guys are great."

Collectively: Uh, what?

"I reviewed the crowd. It was kind of a joke."

Then they end the way you want them to end, which is by reminding us why we liked these prep school street urchins in the first place. Albert, that walking cartoon-bubble poof of hair, with that skinny, motion-blurred forearm sticking out, whacking at the guitar, uploading that sudden solo at the end of "Barely Legal" that jumps suddenly out of the song as gaudy and unrestrained as a Mardi Gras hooker. Those generation-frying lyrics "I Just want to misbehave/I just want to be your slave" and the “Miserlou”-quoting licks in the coda and the soap-opera swells --- not Television, just made for TV. The grand, breakfast-cereal-commercial sunrise of "Is This It." "Hard To Explain" with the false ending intact. Julian singing the old songs like a soul singer stuck with a lounge lizard's voice, trying to find new pauses, new syllables, a place to come in sideways. The effect of his presentation has always been calm in the face of chaos. Maybe drugged calm. Maybe stupid calm. Oblivian. He clutches the mike and sings "Take It Or Leave It" with that last-shred-of-dignity howl and stands his ground like someone around whom there is action-movie shit flying. Dead calm.

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