NEW YORK With the house rife with discerning downtown hipsters, music critics and industry executives, the Strokes concluded their U.S. tour before a sold-out hometown crowd of some 3,000 at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Wednesday.
The post-punk quintet opened their set somewhat bashfully no doubt feeling the pressure of the their first headlining homecoming since March, coupled with the tremendous hype that has surrounded them since having their late-'70s underground sound graciously welcomed by the music press.
Four songs in, however, once the industry eyes glazed over with gleeful appreciation of the brilliantly simple melodies and undeniable pop hooks, the band felt at home and proceeded to rock with the cocky swagger inherent in its music.
It was the single, "Last Nite," off the Strokes' debut, Is This It, that opened the floodgates. The crowd's excitement peaked upon first hearing the bouncy lead riff, and its impact was immediate on singer Julian Casablancas, who adopted a Mick Jagger-like strut as he pranced about in a black sports coat. The skinny frontman often stood in front of the stage's lone spotlight, bathed in the cool darkness as he gave fans in the front row a thrill by clumsily shuffling just beyond throngs of outstretched hands.
The Strokes' composed cool reached an apex toward the end of their set with "New York City Cops." The song, which contains the lyric "New York City cops, they ain't too smart," was originally slated to appear on the album but was pulled at the last minute for its perceived insensitivity in the wake of the heroic efforts of New York's Finest during September's World Trade Center disaster.
In addition to "New York City Cops," the Strokes played all 11 tracks from Is This It, and, for the most part, the live renditions changed little from the LP's counterparts.
Only on the last song, "Take It or Leave It," did the entire band become musically and physically animated. They attacked the verses of the pounding tune with vigor, and Casablancas got truly guttural on the repetitive chorus.
Bassist Nikolai Fraiture and guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. remained mostly motionless throughout the evening save for occasionally crouching over their instruments for a particularly heavy riff but they really loosened up for the finale. While Valensi became lost in his winding guitar lines, Hammond thrashed his curly mop-top and jumped off the drum risers.
Casablancas, meanwhile, resembled Jim Morrison with the voice and East Coast cool of Lou Reed as he stumbled around, tripped on the monitor and fell into the crowd.
The band left the crowd drooling after just over 45 minutes of music and no encore. With no more songs left to sing, the Strokes exited amidst a squall of feedback.
For a feature interview with the Strokes, check out "The Strokes: Huge In England."