Last night I journeyed back to Detroit to catch the Julian Casablancas concert at St. Andrews Hall. Casablancas was/is the lead singer for The Strokes, the group most responsible for the garage rock revival in the early 2000's. There are certain things that I feel a special connection with because I identify them with certain milestone events in my life. One of those events is my freshman year of college at Michigan State which occurred in the fall of 2001. Like most people going away to college felt like the beginning of some transformative experience. I was going to make new friends for life, try new experiences, go to parties, learn about interesting cultures and philosophies, come out of my shell and become a better more interesting person because of it. Of course I squandered that opportunity as my shyness kept me from taking advantage of my new environs. Instead I sat in my dorm, listened to music, watched sports and played entire seasons of Tecmo Super Bowl with my friend since kindergarten and college roommate Mike. So when I think of freshman year of college I don't think of wild dorm parties, making out with random girls and making new friends, instead I think of listening to Radiohead, watching Charlie Rogers and getting into a near fist fight with my roommate because he thought I was excessively celebrating a last second Al Toon touchdown in Tecmo. It was during this time that the Strokes were making their quick rise to fame. There had been a considerable amount of buzz surrounding them and their debut album "Is This It" which came out in October of 2001 and the first two singles from that album were in regular rotation on the college radio station that broadcast out of my dorm. I was instantly hooked and ran out and bought the album as soon as it came out, and songs like "Hard to Explain" and "Last Nite" quickly became part of the soundtrack to my freshman year, joining such timeless classics as "Bootylicious", "Lady Marmalade" and 'N Sync's "Girlfriend". After the success of their first album, the Strokes started putting out new material at approximately the same pace that I update this site. Their follow-up "Room on Fire" came out in 2003 and their third and last album "First Impressions of Earth" came out in 2006. After the stress of creating nearly two hours of music over a six year period, the Strokes went on an indefinite hiatus, much like how when I write a post I take a one month break to unwind from the stress and hard work of typing a few thousand words. Even though The Strokes as a band went on hiatus the members of the group stayed busy with side projects, with the exception of lead singer Casablancas who was mostly silent except for popping up on a few guest appearances singing on some singles. However in October of last year Casablancas released a solo album, "Phrazes for the Young", of Strokes-esque garage rock combined with some 80's style synths, which was surprisingly good and had me anxious to see him live when his tour supporting the album came through Detroit.
The opening act was Funeral Party a five piece group of kids, who made me feel extremely old and uncool as no member of the group, at least from my position in the crowd, appeared to be over the age of 17. They made me feel doubly old, when towards the end of their set they did a short cover of "Champagne Supernova" by Oasis. I remember when that song was popular originally, I was a 12 year old in seventh grade at the time and my sister, who is three years older than me was obsessed with Oasis and most of the Britpop scene in general. My sister was in high school when I was in middle school and had this annoying habit of playing her stereo extremely loud in the morning while she was getting ready for school, so my last hour of sleep before having to get up and get ready for school was constantly interrupted by whatever songs my sister was blasting on her stereo, (I'm not a morning person but I'm also very non-confrontational, so as my sister was blasting her Counting Crows or Oasis album at 6:45 in the morning I was silently stewing in rage underneath my covers and since I didn't want to blow up and start screaming at my sister I would instead imagine all the terrible things I would do to Adam Duritz or Liam Gallagher if I ever had the chance to meet either of them, seeing as how Adam Duritz is probably working at a gas station these days my dreams of finally confronting him for ruining so many mornings is probably close to reality. Seriously though is "Round Here" ever inexplicably became a radio hit again I would probably have some Manchurian Candidate reaction and go on a multi-state murder spree without even realizing what I was doing.) Back to Funeral Party though, I was thinking these kids are so young and were probably rocking out to Sesame Street in 1996 that a song like "Champagne Supernova" is probably some rock classic that they were too young to appreciate when it was new and are now revisiting it, and the same could be said for probably half the crowd in attendance last night. At 26 I don't appreciate being made to feel old so there was some underlying resentment towards Funeral Party on my part. Overall I found their brand of rock music generic, just a collection of indistinguishable songs that sounded like it came straight from "So You Want to be an Indie Rock Band" starter kit. Even the bands actions on-stage were uninspired. The lead singer did the spastic dancing, leg kicking, arm waving, foot stamping routine, followed by the squatting on the speaker, collapse writhing on the floor move that tends to be a favorite of front men who want to project themselves as a brooding and troubled soul. To end the set they through down their instruments in mock hissy-fit disdain. The guitarist led the way by dropping his guitar on the ground to a loud crunching sound, the lead singer dropped the mic and gave a half hearted kick to the guitar on his way off, the drummer flipped a cymbal and even the dorky keyboardist, who fulfilled every stereotype of dorky keyboardists with his comically oversized black button up, making him look like somebody more likely to be working in the IT department than playing in a rock band, even getting in on the act and flipping his keyboard. Oh wow, what badasses, I hope I don't run into them after the concert, they might beat me up and emasculate me in front of my girlfriend, so out of fear I threw my wallet on the stage as a peace offering from being beaten by four tough guy rockers. I have a problem with this too. I feel like in order to leave the stage in a matter that is so abrupt and without thanking or acknowledging the audience you have to earn it. These guys aren't rock stars yet, and 99% of the audience wasn't there to see them, so for them to act like they were to fucking cool to be there was off-putting. If I wanted to watch a young, bland indie rock band with no charisma, I would go check out a high school talent show. Jesus Christ that last paragraph, could be summed up as Get Off My Lawn!!! I am getting old.
I had seen the Strokes live twice before and the best way to describe their energy was somewhere between moribund and lifeless. But they had earned this type of aloofness or arrogance by putting out some of the most defining rock music in nearly a decade. It was all part of their persona as a group of New Yorkers who were to cool to care about their success. They knew the crowd was there to see them, to awe at them, to squeal in delight when they played the crowds favorite songs and they didn't care or need that kind of support. So I didn't know what to expect last night when Casablancas took the stage without his fellow Stroke-mates, Strokers…ehh there really is no way to write that sentence without it sounding like some kind of masturbatory gay porno…I give up. I was half expecting him to sing from a hammock, with somebody holding a microphone to his mouth, another person feeding him grapes, while he mumbled the words to each of his songs while also smoking a cigarette between each song and refusing to engage the crowd. The thirty minute delay between sets was disturbing as I pictured some roadie frantically urging Casablancas to wake up from his nap and take the stage. So it was much to my delight when Casablancas came bounding out from the side stage thanked the audience for coming out and launched full force into his opening number "Ludlow St." His high energy was apparent from the beginning and was surprisingly infectious. He jokingly apologized after opening with the slow-paced Ludlow Street that he had just played the most undanceable song on the album and taken the excitement out of the crowd. He followed this banter by launching into a series of his most catchy and danceable solo stuff, pacing around the stage, touching hands with crowd members and noticeably enjoying himself. This was light years ahead of the type of performer he was during the two times I saw him performing with The Strokes, this time he seemed like a natural entertainer, someone who was comfortable in his own skin, confident with being the center of attention and not so concerned with hiding behind long hair and sunglasses on a darkened stage. Casablancas is a chameleon of cool, some people, not unlike myself…wait I mean very unlike myself, have the ability to be effortlessly cool. With Casablancas he was cool when he was the moody, temperamental sort of morose lead singer, who wore leather jackets, black skinny jeans, Chuck Taylors and kept his hair long, stringy and covering his face while refusing to be engaging in anyway. However, he was effortlessly cool last night too even though he was a embodying a different persona. He came out wearing a brownish track suit, bright red skinny jeans, 80's style Converse high tops and even though he still had long unkempt hair it was pushed back from his face, with a couple of feathers braided into it (a look I unconvincingly tried to get my girlfriend on board with but she didn't like it and she thought it would be a little unprofessional for a lawyer to be in court with two bright pink feathers dangling from his hair, she's probably right…probably) allowing him to engage the crowd. He gave an inspired performance of his first two singles from his solo album, the insanely catchy "11th Dimension" and the more spacey and dark "Out of the Blue", letting the songs hang in the crowd and simmer giving the audience a chance to enjoy them, he went a little bigger with them, singing with slightly more emphasis without over-selling them. There was the obligatory Strokes songs, "Hard to Explain" and a more low-key version of "You Only Live Once", for his encore he sang I Wish it was Christmas Today", which seemed a little out of place and inappropriate in the beginning of April on a day that had reached the mid-70's. Overall it was a short set, clocking in at just under an hour, but it was lively enough to leave me anticipating The Strokes fourth album due out this September and first tour in four years supporting it. All in all it was a pretty great show and if there was a gun to my head and I had to put a grade on it I would give Casablancas a solid B+, with my only complaint being the short length of the set and lack of Strokes songs.