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Wednesday, April 05, 2006


The Strokes at the Roseland again, 4/2/06

The Strokes are one of those bands determined to remain a guilty pleasure. They're not the slightest bit original but they deliver something that many of us haven't seen in a long time: straight-forward rock- just five guys with a bunch of guitars, a drum kit and a hell of lot of greasy hair. No keyboards, no drum machines, no samples, no studio trickery...just guitar solos and songs about girls, drugs, fame and various clashes with authority.

Or at least as straight-forward as rock gets in the 21st century. The Strokes' influences range from Buddy Holly to the Velvet Underground and the Ramones to any number of New Wave acts. Amidst a bleak industry full of Blink 182 clones and rap-rockers, they emerged on the scene in 2001 to "save rock and roll" as all those magazines put it. Now, five years after their debut Is This It, even lead singer Julian Casablancas admits he's "got nothing to say." He repeats this line several times on "Ask Me Anything," a track off their latest album.

But no one in the Roseland on Sunday night was in search of Radiohead-style introspection or grandiose statements about the human condition. I was invited to the show by a friend from out of town and, after surveying the crowd, he grumbled "no one under 23 should be allowed into rock shows." Behind us a woman who looked like an ad exec had brought along her pre-adolescent moppet. Most of the crowd near the stage was comprised of the too-young-to-drink set as their older brethren hid out in the balcony.

We got hung up in a bar and didn't arrive until after Eagles of Death Metal's opening set, which meant we were stuck on the floor. Maybe Casablancas was back stage trying to get his bed-head hair and sneer just right as he downed a mountain or cocaine but the band took their lily-sweet time getting out on the stage. That didn't stop a pair of teens nearby from rounding the bases in front of the crowd. Here's hoping they brought along a few morning after pills.

This may be a photo of the Strokes performing "Is This It" or it could be a terrible screen-capture of an early '80s sci-fi movie. I'm not telling.

Despite the live softcore, "all ages show" meant all ages and those in attendence ranged from "approaching middle school" to "approaching social security." Given the band's influences, it makes perfect sense. Many of the older folks haven't seen a band like this since, maybe, the Ramones and there's no denying that the opening riffs of "Last Nite" were lifted from Tom Petty's "American Girl."

While I'm trying to play snooty Pitchfork music critic here, once the band started hitting familiar songs from their debut album I was bouncing around and screwing up the band's lyrics just like the guy in the Czechoslovakian football pullover (?) next to me. The Strokes played a "blistering" 75-minute set, brought along a very pretty neon-light display and kindly played half the tracks off Is This It. They only brought the lights down once for a self-indulgent slow number before drifting back to their, uh, standards. Can a band that's been around for only five years have standards?

They returned for an encore that included "New York City Cops." Sadly, there wasn't a bouncer around to sing along like the last time the Strokes played the Roseland.

To quote the most overused line in the history of recorded music, "it's only rock n' roll but I like it." As cheesy and unoriginal as the Strokes may be, I'd rather listen to them than any number of indie artists bent on examining every single nuance of their latest failed romance.

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