The Strokes at the Aragon, 2003

October 21st, 2003

By Mark Guarino
Daily Herald Music Critic

The Strokes have become too easy to write off – if you’ve followed the band’s rise over the past two years, you know the talking points: They are popular because they are songs of privilege, they are popular because they are good-looking, they are popular because they know how to pose.

Yet at the Aragon Sunday night, those criticism fell immediately flat. Live, the Strokes are one of the most fearsome bands today. In a climate where danger and aggression are illustrated by how many tattoos a band has, the placement of their metal piercings or the details of their criminal assault record, the Strokes deliver zero-hour telegrams with the most casual of shrugs.

The violence in these songs comes from their execution and nothing else. The Strokes have perfected a slouched indifference, but their playing proves otherwise. The jockeying bass lines of Nikolai Fraiture, machine-gun beats of drummer Fab Moretti and jerky interplay between guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi have a clean, mean precision that still manages to sound roughed-up and raw.

Singer Julian Casablancas, who writes all the songs, is a crooner and screamer who ambles around the stage, both avoiding the spotlight and grabbing it by the throat at the last second.

The lovers’ quarrels in his songs erupt, usually mid-song, with choruses that are typically indictments of dissatisfaction and rage. That also explains the sudden outbreaks of moshing during songs (“NYC Cops,” “Take It Or Leave It”) – unusual for this band, but understandable.

The Strokes release “Room On Fire” (RCA), their second album, Oct. 28, and many new songs debuted during the 75-minute, 19-song set. At less than three minutes each, the songs where a thrill ride of velocity and intensely felt emotions. Hammond and Valensi were the motors behind everything, trading off riffs and exchanging counter melodies at a high rate of speed. At no time did anything hit the wall – the songs, like tightly packed machines, rolled beautifully.

Early in the evening, Casablancas dropped off the stage and charged into the audience, dragging his microphone chord with him to stand on a security ledge and sing to the back of the house.

For him, it was a rare moment of spontaneity in a night meant for holding your breath.

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