The Adventures of
Captain Zero
and his trusty sidekick Numba Wan
Posted Friday, October 18, 2002
The Strokes
16 October 2002 - Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, CO

This was the third time we’ve seen the Strokes. The first was slightly more than a year ago, the day their debut album was released in the states. I’d been listening to the album over the internet, reading all the hype coming from across the pond, and upon hearing they were playing at Boulder’s intimate Fox Theater, dragged the wife along to what became one of the best concerts we saw all year. Serendipitously, the Strokes tour across America intersected that of BRMC, and of the handful of shows the two played together, one was in Boulder. Up to this point, we had never heard of BRMC, and hadn’t heard much of the Strokes, but the resulting show was a revelation, a ray of hope for the future of rock and roll, and since then we’ve readily consumed the debut albums by both groups. Quite often in the last year, you could find my wife and I dancing jigs in our kitchen late into the night with lust for life in our hearts and the Strokes on the stereo. The second time we saw the Strokes was at Coachella, where the lads put up a good effort, but were caught out of their element and ultimately failed to rouse the indifferent afternoon festival crowd.

By contrast the crowd at the Fillmore for this show was ready to party, enthusiastic but not quite partisan. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that place so packed. We arrived from a satisfying dinner after both supporting bands had played, which suited us fine. The thought of a band full of Donnas frankly strikes fear into my heart. We had enough time to get a few very strongly mixed drinks and settle in for some prime people watching. The crowd had plenty of beautiful and stylish young people, but not to the point of being a meat market, and there were lots of normal looking people just out for a good time. There were even a few who were obviously older than my twenty-eight years. People were hanging out in discrete pods, their backs to everyone else as they engaged in spirited conversation, and some were milling about expectantly. The bartenders were drunk and the drinks were flowing, and the background chatter was considerable. I wondered if the Strokes would be able to turn this crowd.

The Strokes ambled onto the stage and started things off provocatively with NYC Cops, the song they dropped from the US release of their debut following the September 11 attacks. Then they played a couple of new songs, including Meet Me In The Bathroom, and another one whose catchy chorus proclaimed defiantly how Julian Casablancas didn’t need anybody for anything. While the new tunes are just as catchy as the old ones, they also reveal a weakness: they all sound alike. The songs are all old-school catchy mid to fast paced tunes with lots of strumming, topped off with Casablancas’ trademark drunken swagger. This suggests that while the band continues to turn out good music for the moment, they could lack the innovation to go beyond what is currently a winning formula. That has yet to be seen, and people don’t go to Strokes shows for innovation – that’s why God invented Radiohead – they go because it’s a damn fun time. And the crowd at the Fillmore that night was having a great time. Down in front was a mass of upraised arms with daring souls riding the sea of hands. The music was LOUD and the people loved it. Guys and girls were dancing everywhere, the girls especially as they gladly swooned for the charismatic frontman. The band seemed to enjoy their power, and Casablancas’ swagger only increased. An interesting corollary to the Law of Cool states that doing something seemingly uncool, as long as it’s done with callous indifference can paradoxically increase coolness. The lead singer proved this by wearing a tie my dad would have been proud to wear to his mid level engineering job back in the early 80’s, the kind of wide, diagonally-striped pastel tie that apparently could only work onstage at a rock and roll show, or in a Dilbert comic. Casablancas seemed very drunk, and most of his between-song banter was slurred beyond comprehension.

They played most of the songs off Is This It, including the title track, Soma, Someday, and Alone Together. Highlights were The Modern Age, Barely Legal, and Hard To Explain. The songs varied little from the recorded versions, with no extended solos or improvisation. After being onstage for less than an hour, they played the appropriate last song, Take It Or Leave It, and stumbled offstage without an encore. The audience wanted more, but as George Costanza would say, the Strokes have Hand, and after the blistering set they played, they felt little need to please the crowd more. I think a few more new songs, and maybe a cover or two, would have driven the show over the top, but with quality women and drugs awaiting them backstage, there was no need to even try. Where the Trail of Dead would have smashed the stage in a riot of musical passion, with any possibility of an encore moot, the Strokes simply walked off stage confidently, Casablancas bowing to the crowd in reverence, leaving the fans wanting more but still ultimately satisfied.

It’s nice to see that old school rock and roll can still turn the kids on.