The Strokes Rock Low-Key Troubadour

The line stretched from a kung-fu dojo past an anonymous brown fading building and wrapped around the corner of Santa Monica and Doheny. It consisted of a motley crew of desperate kids from ‘the scene,’ 20-somethings whose musical obsessions had gotten the best of them and those rare, lucky few who had the day’s golden ticket.
A band like The Strokes doesn’t play shows in venues like West Hollywood’s Troubadour. They could easily sell out L.A. venues like the Greek Theatre and the Gibson Amphitheater, let alone a tiny 300-capacity venue like the Troubadour. All 100 or so people in line at 4 p.m. knew this.
A lot of the people in line didn’t have a ticket. They still stood strong and optimistic, waiting for the opportunity to get in by way of almost anything short of going to jail.
One determined gentleman held up a sign in stoic perseverance. He never got in, but his optimism held up throughout the day.
Almost everyone who did get in (except for those who got their tickets through the KROQ give-away) had a story. A tall, lanky, bearded male in front of me got in via an impromptu conversation with an L.A. Weekly photographer in line (he became his ‘photography assistant’). Another group of kids had been at the Strokes’ new album launch at midnight at the Virgin Megastore on Sunset Boulevard, and had subsequently found themselves at a bar with Mr. Fabrizio Moretti (the Strokes’ drummer) and his famous girlfriend, Drew Barrymore. Their ticket into the show? ‘See you guys on Friday.’
We all packed ourselves like sardines in a crushed tin can into the Troubadour’s pit. Looking up at the balcony, someone in front of me asked:
‘Hey, is that Neo?’
‘Yeah, that’s Keanu [Reeves]. He kind of looks like a bum.’
Famous KROQ DJ Mr. Rodney Bingenheimer came out onstage soon after our entrance. He proudly proclaimed, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the Strokes!’
This was highly anticlimactic, as they didn’t come on for another 20 minutes.
When The Strokes finally did come out on stage, they got to business without wasting any time. They started the night with the biggest bang they could’ve, a blistering rendition of ‘Juicebox’ that sent the capacity crowd into instant uproar. Limbs flailed and bodies collided nonstop through the rest of the set, which included all the right songs from their first two LPs in addition to more than half of their newest, the somewhat pretentiously titled ‘First Impressions of Earth.’ Highlights included a rollicking rendition of their hit ‘Reptilia,’ a fantastic, incredibly tight version of ‘Razorblade’ from their newest record; and two classics from their first album, ‘Hard to Explain’ and ‘Last Night,’ the latter featuring both a boy stagediving and a 30-something woman climbing up one of the metal columns that flank the Troubadour’s tiny stage.
When they came back for the encore (something the Strokes tend to avoid) the crowd cheered louder than ever. The boys’ encore opened with ‘New York City Cops’ a brilliant song left off of the American release of ‘Is This It?’ due to its sensitive content about, well, New York City cops, in relation to the album’s release date weeks after Sept. 11. They capped their set off with one of the Strokes’ angriest and brashest songs, ‘Take It or Leave It.’ The crowd howled along with frontman Julian Casablancas until the final notes, and with the final hi-hat hit, the NYC kids left the stage to an awestruck audience of persons that was unwilling to accept what they had just witnessed: one of America’s most amazing bands in one of the smallest venues in Los Angeles.
The show was one of four around the country to generate buzz for the band’s new album. The album’s critical take has been widely varying; some reviewers tear it apart and some praise it as The Strokes’ best. Many cite it as a departure from their previous efforts.
I don’t see it though. ‘First Impressions of Earth’ is through-and-through a Strokes album, from Casablancas’ unmistakable drawl (which is no longer distorted beyond recognition), to the pounding rhythms section that shares sonic ground so beautifully with Nick Valensi’s and Albert Hammond Jr.’s intertwined guitars.
The most noticeable difference is evident right from the get-go: one can’t help but notice the change in the album’s production.
Gordon Raphael, the producer of The Strokes’ previous two albums, was once quoted as saying that Casablancas would often communicate his desired sound with eccentric requests like ‘this sound needs to loosen its tie.’ It is clear that the tie on this album was kept somewhat snug.
Casablancas’ vocals can be, for the first time, actually heard. The layers of distortion that previously masked his voice into something of an instrument are gone, for the most part. The result is a voice harsher and more volatile than the one that sang over ‘Hard to Explain’ and ‘Whatever Happened.’ When Casablancas screams on new tracks such as ‘Juicebox’ and ‘Vision of Division,’ it is not that terrifying, nasal scream that is prevalent in musical screams nowadays. It is a barking wail; when he scream the refrain of Juicebox, one can’t help but join in the raving, breaking their voices as they howl along in the safety of their car.
The album is as varying as anything The Strokes have put out. Most of the tracks are up-tempo, musically layered rock songs. There are some new songs that are unlike anything they have previously released. The single ‘Juicebox’ is a musical departure in some ways, with its thundering bassline and almost metal-distortion guitar. ’15 Minutes’ sees Casablancas belting out his words in a faux-ballad that strikes airs of the 1940s.
Morreti provides incredibly rich, detailed drums to the whole album, truly giving all the floating notes a definable foundation. Nikolai Fraiture gives the music a pulse with his bass. The bass is not often following the guitar lines on ‘First Impressions of Earth.’ Rather, Fraiture is often playing his own distinct but intertwining lines, giving the music immeasurable depth.
The album’s centerpiece is ‘Ask Me Anything,’ three minutes of electronic pulsing coupled with Casablancas’ newfound naked voice. The lyrics are clearly put on the forefront, flowing to the infectiously simple synth. The song is Casablancas’ expos