The Strokes at Metro


October 8, 2001



The Strokes are not going to "save" rock 'n' roll (and rumors of its demise are, in any event, greatly exaggerated).

The young New York musicians aren't the "next Nirvana," and they probably aren't the heralds of a sweeping new musical movement--though to be sure, it is grass-roots, fan-driven "buzz" that is driving such talk, not corporate record-label hype.

What the Strokes are are a great rock 'n' roll band, pure and simple. And with a fiery set at a sold-out Metro early Saturday morning, they delivered the proof.

Staffers at the city's premier rock club were comparing the level of excitement for this show to the last gig by the Smashing Pumpkins, or maybe that rare and memorable intimate performance by Bob Dylan. Tenacious D, Pete Yorn, and the Black Crowes all dropped by after their own sets to check out the competition, and a Who's Who of the Chicago music scene filled the balcony, as much to garner ammunition for the inevitable backlash as to cheer "the next big thing."

The Strokes' reaction to all of this was exactly as it should have been.

They delivered a potent 12-song set, eschewed the usual inevitable encore, stage patter, and other showbiz trappings, tore through their hook-filled tunes with a vengeance, and ended the night with an incendiary rocker that seemed to comment on all of the posturing.

"You can take it or leave it, take it or leave it," Julian Casablancas snarled, jumping into the crowd to sing face to face with hyper-enthusiastic young fans who knew every word to every song--despite the fact that the band's debut album, "Is This It?," won't even be released until Tuesday.

The most frequent comparison is to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, and the touchstones were certainly there: in the music (especially Casablancas' nasal monotone and the occasional eruption of feedback from guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi), the look (stylish, mod and all-black), and the attitude (the musicians succeeded in royally ticking off a thin-skinned security guard, who furiously stormed after them following the set because they playfully confiscated his Cubs baseball cap).

But another comparison became more obvious onstage than on album. The frantic tempos, ultra-precise 32nd-note drum patterns, and blur of frantically strummed guitar chords recalled the run-amok subway-train rhythms of New Jersey's late, lamented Feelies, who took the Velvets' sound and sped it up like an LP played at 45 rpm.

Particularly impressive were drummer Fabrizio Moretti, a nonstop dynamo, and bassist Nikolai Fraiture, who provided many of the melodic lines as the guitarists concentrated on rhythm. The entire group delivered with barely a pause to take a breath, even after some bonehead hurled a beer at Valensi and short-circuited his effects pedals.

The band also showed its obvious disdain for RCA Records' decision in the wake of Sept. 11 to remove the song "NYC Cops" from their album. (The chorus: "New York City cops, they ain't too smart.") "We were [expletive] there!" Casablancas said of the terrorists attacks. Then the group played the tune with the same passion that it invested in other memorable rockers such as "Soma," "Some Day," and "The Modern Age."

If the Strokes represented the very best tradition of snotty New York rock, opening act the Moldy Peaches evoked the worst, typifying the sort of precious, artsy self-indulgence that rarely translates outside the Boho enclaves of the Lower East Side.

The Peaches played longer than the headliners, torturing us with the faux naivete of Jonathan Richman imitating Beck, but without the wit of the former or the musical inspiration of the latter.

The Strokes made clear their affection for their "sister act"--they sat through the entire set, cheering from the balcony--and this misguided enthusiasm was really the only thing they could be criticized for.