- 01 Sep 19
New York Arse Kicking Lesson
First off, The Strokes just look impossibly cool. Bassist Nikolai Fraiture is sporting some kind of theatrical geometric barber's outfit/golf jumper, Albert Hammond Jr. is wearing a crimson suit with a go faster stripe down one side that might have been modelled on the Mini that Michael Caine used to get out of Turin, and Julian Casablancas is doing the seemingly impossible by actually making a mullet, leather waistcoat and digital watch combo look acceptable. They hurtle without ado - after intro music that ranged from Aerosmith to Al Stewart - into two tracks from 2006's First Impressions Of Earth. 'Heart In A Cage' sounds great but 'You Only Live Once' - that riff! - is even better again, guitarist Nick Valensi already playing outside himself.
When Is This It was released back in 2001, it's no exaggeration to say that it changed music. Would we have had The Libertines, Kings Of Leon, Artic Monkeys, Fontaines DC, or a thousand other bands without it? Doubtful. Valensi's guitar solo in 'The Modern Age' sounds like it's having a fight with itself and drummer Fab Moretti - coincidently a phrase I used with several bar people over the last couple of days - would like to join in, pounding his drums like he wants to grind them to dust, and quickly. That goes on into a searing 'New York City Cops' - the one you won't find on the American cd, which is a shame, because it's just great.
Casablancas tries a bit of talking but, as he says himself, he doesn't speak festival. As he's comparing the impressively gigantic video screens to "the largest mirror of all time" the crowd get tired of waiting for him and take up that familiar-to-all Olé, Olé chant. "What does it mean?" Casablancas asks. "It means Fuck Yeah!" says Valensi. The band riff on the "melody" while Casablancas mutters something about arseless chaps (I presume he's talking about air-conditioned pants, not poor unfortunate fellas with no arse) before they get things back under control with 'Under Control', almost a ballad with beautiful guitar, and then a steamrolling 'Hard To Explain'. They look great and everything but what's really important is that this is a rock n' roll band as tight as your trousers on Stephen's morning. The instrumental interplay, especially between the two guitars, is near perfect.
Hard to know whether Casablancas is taking the piss or if he's been on the piss. He promises some whiskey soaked, balls to the wall rock n' roll, then wonders why the rest of the band are all looking at him. He puts Hammond Jr. on the spot for some poetry and then says he's contractually obliged to ask how everyone's doing. The opinion-o-meter in the crowd around me veers from "prick" to "awesome" so take it your own way. Anyway, never mind all that, 'I Can't Win' and 'On The Other Side' let the music do the talking, but Jaysus, he's back at it again - "alright, all you sex Lizards!" and offering to sleep with Moretti - a fine looking man, in fairness - before the band go in to 'Reptilia' with its brilliant mid song riff breakdown.
Casablancas patter is either charming or annoying depending on how you're feeling. There's some garbled stuff about loving Ireland and not seeing any bands cause he's a jaded asshole who just shows up to play. Whatever, man. The Strokes as a musical unit are on fucking fire, so all that other stuff goes out the window. They hurtle to the set's end, raging through songs like 'Razorblade' and the Blonide/new wave-isms of '12:51'. Things finish up with the angular pop of 'Soma' - Casablancas roaring it out - and 'Someday', which is a perfect ending as it has everyone, and I do mean everyone, in this massive crowd frugging furiously, the cold of the night forgotten. The band do reappear for a one song encore, and 'Last Nite' kicks out like a mule with a red hot poker up its jacksie.
That's our lot, but it is enough. A brilliant rock n' roll band playing tight and loose, fast and sharp. Gratisfaction guaranteed.