Tuesday, Nov. 27
It must be good to be the Strokes.
They make rock music seem so easy, and make it look so good.
Rarely does a band have to do so little to fill the Cat's Cradle and then drive the crowd to hysterics. The throngs of screaming fans clawing at the stage seemed to be exerting more energy than the Strokes, who lackadaisically swaggered through their short set as the crowd begged for more.
In case you haven't been caught up by the shameless media hype, the Strokes are the current "it" band. A quintet of elegantly scruffy New York hipsters, the group sells out shows everywhere, elicits Beatlemaniacle responses from female fans, and makes rock critics gush messianic comparisons.
They've been called "the saviors of rock," "the fairy-tale rock group who awoke a sleeping rock scene" and other ridiculous hyperbolic proclamations. Their debut album, Is This It, released in September, is flying off record store shelves as I type.
With all that in mind, I went to the Cat's Cradle prepared to be thoroughly disappointed. There's no way they can be that good, I thought. In a way I was right, but in a way I was wrong.
Try as I might, I can't deny that the Strokes are a good rock band. They've got solid songwriting, killer riffs and super-catchy hooks in their bag of tricks, and they were using them all Tuesday night. Musically, they were on.
They precisely barreled through Is This It's 11 songs pretty much in the order they appear on the album, opening the set with the record's sleepy-eyed title track. Their live show was a faithful reproduction of the album -- damn good, straight-up rock songs in the vein of their New York predecessors Velvet Underground and Television. The crowd was visibly excited; dancing and jumping up and down in a show of enthusiasm that's not been seen in Chapel Hill for years. Female fans were screaming and pushing people in front of them to claw at frontman Julian Casablancas (the son of Elite Modeling founder John Casablancas).
But the Strokes looked like they'd rather be anywhere else. The rest of the band melted to the back of the stage to give Casablancas room for his huge rock persona. The star of the Casablancas show stood hunched over the mike in the same spot for the first few songs, barely raising his head, doing a bad impersonation of a lame drunk. Occasionally he'd bend over the edge of the stage to let fans touch him.
"I hope everybody's having a good time," he told the crowd at one point. "We are even though we don't look like it."
Toward the end of the set the band decided to pick it up and actually put on a show. But even that seemed artificial. At one point Casablancas poured beer on himself, at another he fell down and sang from the floor. The moves made the girls scream a little louder, but he seemed to be doing them because he was aware it was necessary. That's rock.
The Strokes ended the set with the anthemic "Take it or Leave it." By that point Casablancas and bandmates had woken up a bit and were actually moving onstage. But again, the sense that it was an act detracted from the emotion. And then it was over.
At the end of the song the Strokes quickly left the stage, the lights came up, and non-Strokes music started playing over the PA. Very anti-climactic.
But you know what? It doesn't matter because even though they might have put on a lousy show, you will still like the Strokes. You can't help it. Their hooks are too catchy. Their denim and leather too hip. Their faces everywhere.
Oh yes. It must be good to be the Strokes.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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