Julian Casablancas at Terminal 5 – January 14th, 2010

“I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous before playing this show,” said Julian Casablancas from the stage Thursday at Terminal 5 before thanking the packed house again for the warm reception. Artists gain and lose popularity fast in music, so it may not have been too crazy for him to think people might not care about him or his old band The Strokes that much anymore. But an excited Terminal 5 audience dispelled any doubt. Perhaps music tastes can change, but New Yorker’s always welcome back one of their own.
Doors opened at 8 PM and by 9 PM opener Tanlines was keeping the growing crowd well entertained, mostly with their intense on-stage gyrations. Tweaking computers and keyboards they presented an aggressive dance sound. In contrast, Telepathe, who followed, emitted an intense racket that sounded like a wash of sound rather than finely crafted music. The duo’s similar sounding voices and monotonous songs barely excited the crowd, and a few of their offerrings ended with just a spattering of applause. The group looked a little dejected as they left the stage, but after 35 minutes of without much musical or visual excitement (they barely tried to engage the crowd), it was hard to feel guilty about the audience’s poor reaction.
The reaction was much different when the lights went down for the headliner. With his backing band hitting the stage first, Julian Casablancas strolled out in a slim black leather outfit to the jubilation of everyone in Terminal 5. Although it’s only been a few years since The Strokes played New York, the excitement of the moment was palpable, as was the moment when he began singing in his distinctive croon.
The band started off with “Ludlow Street,” one of the album’s slower tracks, and though it lacked some of the old world instrumentation of the recorded version, it came across well, as did the next song, the more up-tempo “River of Brakelights.” Casablancas took the chance to talk to the crowd a bit, spouting out a stream of expletive-laden thanks-yous to everyone for the warm reception. The casual banter would continue throughout the night, and flew off into such side roads as Casablanca’s admiration of Alicia Key’s contribution to Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” (he would later sing a snippet of it as a ten-second final song of the night, backed only by drums).
Launching into single “11th Dimension,” the band was fully warmed up and the crowd was soon bopping up and down. Every once in a while throughout the night (in “River of Brakelights” and Left and Right in the Dark,” for example), the band hit a chugging groove and Casablancas voice hit that sweet spot towards the higher, more desperate part of his range. The effect recalled what was so great about the Strokes, and the crowd reacted as you would have expected (see the video below). But the other sounds Casablancas has explored proved popular as well. The crowd sang along with “Out of the Blue” and “Left and Right in the Dark.” Casablancas and company played a new, untitled song which felt energetic and a lot more raw than the album material.
Reports from L.A. told of an elaborate stage show, but there were no visuals or fancy costumes at this gig, just the band and Casablancas with minimal lighting effects. Still, the crowd ate it up, especially in the encore when Casablancas and his keyboard player came out to play a stripped-down “I’ll Do Anything Once,” a Strokes b-side (which he announced as a cover). A bigger surprise was the inclusion of the Kings of Leon song “Velvet Snow,” though admittedly it was one of the weaker songs of the night. Still, the singer seems happy to playing live in NY again, whether this solo tour is a diversion before a Strokes reunion or a long term gig.

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