UPPER DARBY, Pennsylvania — Strokes fans, take heart. The Strokes' new album, Room on Fire, due October 28, doesn't seem to signify a departure from the group's rapid-fire garage rock sensibilities. Judging from the batch of new songs the Strokes performed at the Tower Theatre for their tour kickoff Thursday, the band's sticking to what's tried and true. Framed by a striking aqua and purple-lit background, the group opened with the new song "Between Love and Hate," a mid-tempo rocker with a jump-start chorus and layered guitar chords. The song was followed by the taut, tempo-changing of "What Ever Happened?," which also appears on the band's new disc.
Most of the new songs the band played were short, intense bursts of energy featuring angular guitar parts and driving rhythms, accented by lead singer Julian Casablancas' drawling vocals.
As if to point out the similarities between the fresh stuff and the old, the Strokes — which also includes drummer Fab Moretti, bassist Nikolai Fraiture and guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi — performed a seamless medley of "Modern Age," one of their first recorded tracks, followed by Room on Fire's first single, "12:51," which sounds like the former song's not-so-distant cousin. However, other new tunes the band played during its 80-minute set did stray from the formula somewhat. For instance, the catchy roller "Under Control" is clearly a pop gem, and "Automatic Stop" recalls a world-beat sound with its stuttering rhythms and loping guitar.
The not-so-subtle differences in sound were not lost on audience members. "The new songs are much more laid-back," 18-year-old Sara Crouse of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, said.
While the Strokes might be branching out musically, the guys still looked like their scruffy old selves. Valensi was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, Moretti and Hammond Jr.'s hair was flying all over the place, and Fraiture, who wore a dress shirt, vest and geometrically cut locks, looked like some kind of spaced-out middle manager.
It didn't really matter what the other members looked like, though, as all eyes were on Casablancas. He stood at center stage in a shabby work shirt with the sleeves rolled up, dark pants and a white belt. Alternately jutting his hip while leaning on his microphone stand and smoking a cigarette, the singer said little to the audience, and what he did say was largely inaudible.
Toward the end of the set, which also included hits like "Last Nite," "Someday" and "Hard to Explain," Casablancas did manage to speak clearly when he mentioned that the band only had two more songs to play. When the approximately 2,000 fans booed good-naturedly in response to his announcement, the singer seemed genuinely surprised by the enthusiasm.
"We didn't expect this!" he said, placing his hand over his heart and smiling before he and the other members left the stage.
The Kings of Leon, sometimes called the Nashville Strokes, preceded the Strokes with a set of bluesy Southern Rock from their album, Youth & Young Manhood.
Guitarist Matthew Followill — a cousin to fellow group members and brothers Caleb (vocals and guitar), Nathan (drums) and Jared (bass) — sounded much like the late Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman on "Joe's Head." Other times, the band chugged forward in jams punctuated by Caleb Followill's throaty vocals, such as on the driving blues anthem "California Waiting."
New York's anti-folk artist Regina Spektor performed a plucky and funny solo set to open the evening. Her set veered toward the political and humorous.
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