AUSTIN, Texas — It’s been 10 years since the Strokes’ legendary South by Southwest showcase at the tiny Iron Cactus. On Thursday night the band returned to the festival bigger than ever, playing a free show at the Auditorium Shores venue with the skyline of Austin as their backdrop.
Walking onstage to the stomping sounds of “We Will Rock You,” the Strokes started things off with Room on Fire’s opener, “What Ever Happened?” as Julian Casablancas — strangling the microphone with a death grip — wailed, “I want to be forgotten/ And I don’t want to be reminded.” There’s a sense of irony when he says this to 20,000-plus fans, some of whom broke through the fencing to get in. The large venue was a departure from the typical SXSW fare, but if anything, the Strokes’ performance was an example of what these indie bands can become (or at least aspire to).
Only Casablancas can pull off the combination of black leather jacket (popped collar included), sunglasses worn at night and what looked to be a calculator wristwatch. There’s an undeniable rock-star swagger about him, evident in his nonchalant attitude when commanding the riotous crowd. “SXSW, let’s do this,” he ordered as the plucking guitar sounds of “You Only Live Once” began. He then mumbled, “New single y’all” with a Southern drawl before bringing out “Under Cover of Darkness,” the first taste of the forthcoming Angles for the night. Come March 22, the five-year wait for the new album will be over, and if the crowd’s positive reaction to the single is any indication, it will be topping the charts. Appropriately, they then played their second single-to-be, “You’re So Right,” a pleasantly different song that features an Egyptian-like guitar hook of all things.
The Strokes again brought back the memories. The crowd seemed to know every word to “Someday.” “Juicebox” was an opportunity for Fabrizio Moretti to show that he doesn’t make mistakes when pounding the drums, no matter how hard he’s playing (or how much fun he’s having). It wasn’t strictly greatest hits as the band snuck in “I Can’t Win,” but this didn’t last long with “Reptilia” being the very next song.
For the encore, the crowd got the two other classic singles from Is This It. “Ladies and gentlemen, from Los Angeles, California, Nick Valensi!” Casablancas stated midway through “Hard to Explain,” commending his guitarist as he ripped through his solo. The Strokes gave the fans exactly what they wanted by closing the set with the song that started it all, “Last Nite,” during which fireworks erupted in the sky. What better way to end a party?