“The adults are talking!” exclaimed Julian Casablancas during a pause in the show. He’d revisit this phrase a few more times in the evening, but one could tell from the abrupt stop and the crowd chanting “New song! New song!” repeatedly, as well as roadies scrambling about trying to re-arrange the gear for an unexpected change in the set list, that the audience was in for a treat. “I’m gonna try my best on this one,” Casablancas confessed before the band ripped into the new addition to their repertoire. “Are you not entertained?” he teased near the end of the new song.
It’s a little relieving to see The Strokes stumble through new material. After two-plus years without a show, and four years gone without new music, it’s re-assuring to see them challenge themselves. But what made the performance was not that it was just a phenomenal rock show (yes, ROCK music, like with all guitars), but it also featured a masterclass in pacing. Throughout the night, they balanced between new material, covers, and rarities with the hits like “You Only Live Once” and “I Can’t Win,” both testing out new waters, and immediately returning to the crowd pleasers.
But wouldn’t it be just as great even if it was a show of covers the entire night? Or yet, all the songs you’ve already heard a thousand times before? It didn’t matter what they played, it didn’t matter if you couldn’t completely see them and had to stand on your toes for half of the show, because the show wasn’t a focus on the spectacle. But rather, you were the center of the show. The crowd and its energy was the focus of the show.
It reminded me of what The Jesus and Mary Chain’s early tours must’ve looked like: no elaborate stage design, no changing set pieces, but instead heavy fog, a single ambient color, and some interesting silhouetted haircuts. The entire show, the band was submerged in darkness, the crowd unable to make out any of the members faces save for their profiles and Casablancas’ glasses. And yet, that was the biggest contributor to the balls-to-the-wall performance – instead of casting lights on the band, quite a few times in the night the house lights illuminated the audience during dramatic pauses in some songs. You were the show. It was the synergy between the band and the crowd that brought the performance to 100%.
It feels funny seeing the Strokes in 2019 playing a small theater in Koreatown when they can easily sell out multiple nights at Madison Square Garden or the Forum. Yet, that thought was secondary, because somehow over the past 19 years, their popularity has only surged, despite few tours and no album in sight for the past six years. It makes me wonder what caused this resurgence, but I’m sure one big reason was the success of the best-selling book Meet Me in the Bathroom, which details their rise in such vivid imagery during the early 2000s.
But it makes me wonder how long the Strokes will live on, and how long their sound will live on. In typical L.A. fashion, the entire night I found myself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Lizzy Goodman and Maggie Rogers. As the band played the song “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” I was standing right next to the very people who WROTE the book itself, and in that moment, I had not one ounce of doubt that their fame will ever descend.
I remember Daft Punk in an NPR interview talking about the result of influence on today’s modern-day music in which they compared the Strokes with the Velvet Underground, and that, given the time they each rose to prominence and changed the musical landscape of rock music, the Strokes, to Daft Punk at least, are “just as good as the Velvet Underground.”
And feeling the energy in that room Monday night, it convinced me that, even if their sound somehow remains cryogenically frozen from the early 2000s, it’ll still be applicable for defining any decade for years to come. Maybe twenty years from now, we’ll still be calling the Strokes “the true saviors of guitar rock,” or maybe that title will fizzle out, or maybe it already has. As rock goes into a deep slumber, it will only rise again as an entirely different beast led by a different band who we will then be calling “the next Strokes.” Who knows, but that’s what’s special about how time plays out. They may be human and mortal, but their sound will never be. They’re the Strokes: the first great band of the new millennium to be captured in black and white.