The Strokes | 04.08.06

Snapped out of their rock ’n’ roll daydream, the crowd emptied for, as one fan in the bathroom line called it, “the fuckin’ piss-break song.”

 

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Strokes photo by Todd Owyoung

w/Eagles of Death Metal
The Pageant,
St. Louis

Expectations can be a bitch. After being insanely hyped by the British press as the band destined to revive rock music in 2001, the Strokes have been in the unenviable position of having to live up to their own hype, and the buzz surrounding their live shows had the packed-in, sold out crowd at the Pageant bristling with anticipation.

The New York City quintet hit the stage with “Heart in a Cage,” a driving track from their new album First Impressions of Earth, singer Julian Casablancas affecting a deep, Jim Morrison–meets–Iggy Pop delivery for the song’s propulsive melody, half-nicked from the Igg-ster’s “The Passenger.” The band was loud and powerful, to be sure, but an overly busy light show overshadowed their performance. As the band settled into the Thin Lizzy–esque guitars of “Red Light” and “Juicebox,” another new song that could pass for an early Pearl Jam b-side, it became clear what sort of concert the audience was in for. The Strokes sounded great, sure, but the performance was stolid and workmanlike. On stage right, bassist Nikolai Fraiture stood stock still as guitarist Nick Valensi—who, with his flowing curls and loose-fitting shirt, looked like he had stepped right out of the Age of Aquarius—gently waved back and forth to the music. On an enormous drum riser, Fab Moretti was all but invisible, while Casablancas, unencumbered by any instrument, nonetheless stayed solidly planted in front of his mic stand. Only Albert Hammond showed any real signs of life, sliding back and forth as he strangled notes from his guitar.

Did the crowd mind the lack of visual stimulation? Hardly. “12:51,” the single from their sophomore album Room on Fire, was greeted with a Beatlemania-worthy chorus of screams. As Casablancas noted Hammond’s birthday, the cheerful crowd responded with a run through “Happy Birthday” before the band launched into the crowd-pleaser portion of the set. A quick, faithful delivery of the Ramones’ “Life’s a Gas” interjected into what was, in effect, Is This It on shuffle: Hammond brought the funk on the grooving “Soma,” “Someday” led into “Alone, Together,” their first smash hit single “Last Nite” heated the crowd to near the boiling point only to boil over on “Hard to Explain,” “Trying Your Luck” slid effortlessly into the driving “Barely Legal.”

All the pent-up energy of the crowd dissipated, however, when the rest of the band left Valensi and Casablancas alone onstage for the slow, boring “Ask Me Anything.” Snapped out of their rock ’n’ roll daydream, the crowd emptied for, as one fan in the bathroom line called it, “the fuckin’ piss-break song.” The Strokes, fortunately, rebounded quickly, and the crowd was back in full scream mode as the main set wrapped with the Room on Fire single “Reptilia.”

The encore was wisely packed with rockers, kicking off with a pounding take on “The Modern Age” that was highlighted by a stunning Valensi guitar solo. The fivesome then galloped through “New York City Cops,” practically turning it into a metal song, before wrapping things up with “Take It or Leave It,” Casablancas bellowing the title in a throat-shredding scream that ended the night with a bang.

One reason why the Strokes’ stage show may have seemed so stiff is because of opening act Eagles of Death Metal, whose preening frontman Jesse Hughes embodies the very essence of rock ’n’ roll excess. With him at the front of the stage, virtually any band on the planet would seem lifeless by comparison.

Eagles of Death Metal seem to be all shtick, Hughes prancing on the stage with his low-cut jeans and ’70s porn moustache, but the band’s skills are no joke. Each song is packed with heavy cock-rock riffs and blazing guitar solos, drummer Josh Homme—better known as frontman for Queens of the Stone Age—holding down a pounding, Dave Grohl–worthy beat. Hughes was absolutely electric at the front of the stage, whether reaching for a falsetto on “Kiss the Devil” or bringing the AC/DC swagger to “I Want You So Hard.”

The crowd was unreceptive at first, but the Eagles refused to be denied as they stomped through songs like “Don’t Speak” with authority. By the time the band wrapped up with “Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn),” with its grooving, ZZ Top guitar riff and over the top lyrics (“Shit, goddamn! I’m a man!”), the crowd was responding with the uproarious applause that opening bands rarely receive but that the Eagles of Death Metal so richly deserved.

Todd Owyoung’s photos of The Strokes: [cincopa AwMArUqGyQY4]

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