Julian Casablancas/Strange Boys @ The Showbox, Seattle, WA 11.22.09
Seeing an artist who is most known for his work with another band strike out as a solo artist is always a curious prospect. It wasn't all that long ago that The Strokes were one of the largest bands in the world, and now most of the band have struck out and formed their own solo projects.
Having been pretty blown away by Albert Hammond Jr.'s solo records as well as Fab Moretti's Little Joy, I was curious as to whether Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas was just a pretty face to front the band or an artist in his own right. Hell, even some of the press releases pertaining to his new record (Phrazes for the Young) point to the fact that his solo career was slightly forced due to the other Strokes' projects. Thankfully, all skepticism was erased when Casablancas stepped on stage.
The six-piece band started in on the set, and 45 seconds later, Casablancas strode on stage, all lanky legs, leather jacket, and perfectly mussed hair. The crowd went nuts. Flash bulbs popped on digital cameras as if Elvis himself had re-entered the building, and Casablancas and company launched into a relentless set.
The all-ages crowd (most of whom probably had a Strokes song playing when they lost their v-card, or at the very least had it as their first ringtone or MySpace profile song) went absolutely ballistic, hopping and lurching to every beat and making the show feel like an actual friggin' event more than just another show on another Sunday night.
Much more driving and metronomic than The Strokes, Casablancas solo work mines some of the most epic moments of the '80s, tossing the most urgent moments of Duran Duran, U2, Hall and Oates, Springsteen, and INXS into the mix before spitting them out with a post-hip-hop percussive feel to them. It rocks, it glides, and is just as easy to shake your hips as it is to pump your fist to. From minute one, the set felt like being in a car, hopped up on a couple energy drinks, speeding down the highway, driving toward a sunset and urgently trying to beat it over the horizon.
Casablancas' backing band was, by all accounts, as conceivably tight and charged as a band gets. It was truly interesting to see Phrazes dissected into a live band setting, and watch how many people it took to recreate such a thick, fuzzy sound. Mountains of percussion provided a bed for layers of tweaked keyboards and staccato guitars to bounce atop, while Casablancas crooned and growled his absolutely unintelligible lyrics.
The only moment where anything resembled a slowdown was when the rest of the band stepped away, leaving Casablancas and keyboardist Nelson London to take on a cover of The Strokes' "I'll Try Anything Once". While stage banter is not really his strong suit ("This is fuckin' sweet! Seattle is cool!" was about as deep as it got all night), Casablancas does work incredibly well in a solo setting.
He's not the best frontman in rock (a bit too shy for his own good and lacking of any true rock power), but with Phrazes of the Young (and an audience full of sugar-charged fans), Casablancas has proven that he's got more to offer the world than just a pretty face.
A Note About the Opener:
A weird opening band always sets my mind ablaze. Did the headliner pick this band? Are they somehow friends from way back? Do the bands share management?
When Austin's Strange Boys came on, hootin' and hollerin' and wavin' towels, I was excited but had no idea what to expect. The band had all the right strum and twang, dropping Link Wray into stage conversation and playing a loose, charmingly scruffy set of 60's garage/party rock full of great guitar hooks and slinky beats. Singer Ryan Sambol has a great gravelly voice that fits the part perfectly, but the unfortunate addition of a skronky, out of tune sax combined with several long, unexplained gaps in the set made for a show that was more tolerable than enjoyable.