It may be somewhat difficult to believe now, but at one point, The Strokes were considered rock music’s saviors. It’s a fact that has become even more unfathomable now.
New York City’s most admired and privileged sons appeared to have reached a plateau after the release of their highly-anticipated second album in 2003, “Room on Fire,” leaving them with some responsibility to churn out something different.
The album obtained the less-than-witty moniker “Is This It, pt. 2” in response to the little difference in style and song structure. Despite their apathetic glances, The Strokes returned to the pop music world’s eye with a post-holiday season release of “First Impressions of Earth.” After a barrage of mixed reviews, the lackluster record showed a band stretching thin as they tried to be more than what their first two releases had them pegged as.
With songs ranging in influence from the Talking Heads and Blondie to the Cramps and Barry Manilow, The Strokes did everything but appear to be themselves. Despite always having a generally derivative sound of early New York proto-punk defined by its lo-fi character, this return did little to spark critics and old fans. Regardless of its artistic merit, which many fans rarely regard when turning on a Strokes album anyway, “First Impressions” saw a band attempting to break through again, but in turn giving their weakest release to date.
New York’s finest came to D.C. last Wednesday a slightly different band-some married, some sober, some both. But, they still tore through a 90-minute set without much letdown. As the lights faded, the ostensibly serene crowd of the cavernous DAR Constitution Hall awoke in a roaring response as the band swaggered on stage. Complete with large blinking lights that bordered on distracting, The Strokes opened with the new album’s second single, “Heart in Cage”, to a rousing audience response. Without pause, they opened their set with three songs from “First Impressions” before addressing their loyal audience.
For a band that has undergone the transition from small clubs to large theaters, The Strokes managed to fill out the cacophonous voids and appear confident on stage. The band that once did little more than nod their heads on stage had aged into a relatively animated live rock act. While trying to incorporate much of the new album, The Strokes’ set included a sizeable number of old favorites from “Is This It?” and several fan favorites. Their performance of “Someday” showed a band harking back to a time of small clubs and no model girlfriends.
The second snag proved to be the awkward performance of one of “First Impressions,” as well as “Ask Me Anything,” in which low-slung guitarist Nick Valensi and lead singer Julian Casablancas stood solo on stage and performed with only a piano. For most bands, this would have been a set-killer, as Valensi and Casablanca stood in front of a mellowed audience awaiting the return of the rest of the band from backstage. But while it looked like a drop off, the other three band members returned to restore the energy level with “Vision of Division” and more so with “Reptilia,” in which Casablancas plowed two orchestra sections into the audience and stood upon the seats while screaming the words with his crowd.
With fresh beers and worn out expressions, the encore consisted of three favorites from 2001, sending the audience home with the traditional closer “Take It or Leave It.” After the rest of the band exited the stage, drummer Fab Moretti called up on stage an old friend from the second grade, handing him the microphone and then walking off, leaving the audience feeling confused and left out, yet still pleased with their Strokes.