By Mark Guarino
Where were the Strokes the day their third album hit stores? It wasn’t New York City but Chicago, where the band played a special club show that disproved the band lost its edge since hibernating in the studio over the past year. At the same time, the Strokes live show did not get the makeover it deserves. Live, the band remains shaggy, perfectly poised and actually boring.
The Strokes kept the capacity crowd waiting into overtime until they hit the stage at the Park West and kicked off their 70-minute, 18-song set with “Under Control.” Dressed in a brass buttoned jacket with fingerless gloves, singer Julian Casablancas hung onto his microphone stand as he did every word, stretching out the syllables in his signature slacker croon. New songs from the new album First Impressions of Earth were obvious departures from those off their previous two albums. Breaking the mold of buzzsaw riffs brokered by stop-start time shifts, new songs like “Razorblade” became bolder exercises in glistening guitar pop — even if the chorus blends into Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.”
What’s most exciting about these new songs is how they are now platforms for the band’s quicksilver tendencies. The shotgun rhythm partnership of drummer Fab Moretti and bassist Nikolai Fraiture presented a dramatic berth for the guitar exchange between Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. Their point-counterpoint interplay brought real life to the set, with one twirling arpeggios, the other providing chords and then a switch of positions at the most unexpected times. This is a band that listens to each player and it shows in both the tiniest moments and surging breakouts.
Such stylized playing creates impeccable studio work and compelling performances, but it needed a powderkeg lead singer to make it explode. That wasn’t Casablancas who played the show like he was reading a map pressed close to his face. Older songs were throwaways, one dismissed as an “oldie but goodie.” For a band pressing a legacy in only albums, this must be a distressing position to be in: more perfect than your peers, but not giving a damn.