A gen Z fan of the Strokes finally gets to experience their 2000s-rock sound and laid-back philosophy in live concert.
Seeing The Strokes live was, in the words of Julian Casablancas, a promise I’d made to myself thinking I’d break it.
I first listened to this infamous “indie starter band” when I was thirteen. I’d just begun learning the bass, and The Strokes’ simply-plucked “Last Nite” was the perfect introductory song. Even though my thirteen-year old fingers could barely stretch wide enough to reach the consequent C, D, and E notes, I could feel the simplicity in the bass tab — a simplicity which created the perfectly careless sound of Is This It.
To me and millions of other listeners, The Strokes are mesmerizing. Their simple bass progressions and radiating, rough-sounding guitar represent the sound of “garage-grunge” adolescence in the late 90’s and early 2000s.
The band came together in 1998 as a collection of friends that Julian Casablancas had made during his time at different schools in New York City and Switzerland. The band spent a few years generating their sound together before they signed to Rough Trade Records. During the next few years, they released records like the hit Is This It, for which they are so well-known.
After their 5th album, Comedown Machine, the band refused to tour because of rising tensions and the personal limitations that their fame had caused. From paparazzi-flash dinners to Casablancas’ desire to control their music in an effort to maintain their popularity, fame made life in the band toxic. After that album, tensions caused them to informally break until recently, and they’ve only come together for a few festivals and released the EP Future Present Past.
Needless to say, all of this build-up had given me high expectations. Because I became conscious of the band around the time of their last New York concert in 2016, like many other gen-Z fans, I never thought I would have the chance to see them live.
I first entertained the idea of seeing them live in 2019, when they announced a Governor’s Ball appearance. Disappointingly, however, I thought my dreams would never actualize after a thunderstorm cancelled their Gov Ball concert just as they were about to go on. Even though my friends and I were soaked and sad that night about not seeing them play, when we got on the train back home, the spirit of The Strokes was very much still alive. Other soaked Strokes’ fans were in the same subway car and chanting along to the lyrics. That night I learned that the early 2000s-era zeitgeist captured in The Strokes’ music is what causes people to love it so much. It isn’t just Julian Casablancas’ “haven’t showered in a week” hair or Fabrizio Moretti’s drum lines that make people enjoy The Strokes’ sound.
Despite not seeing them live that night, I remained hopeful that my wish would be granted someday. I was sure that the electric energy of their fanbase would spark more concerts.
Two months later, they announced their New Year’s Eve concert in NYC, and after a series of frantic text messages making sure we got them before they sold out, a friend and I bought tickets. When the night came, we were ecstatic. Both of us had forayed into music with The Strokes as our guide. So we both jumped at the chance of ringing in 2020 with Is This It.
Barclays Center hosted the concert. The crowd was mainly made up of beards, IPAs, and late-twenty-somethings in sparkly New Year’s Eve dresses. To be fair, this was the crowd that had grown up with The Strokes as we did with Car Seat Headrest or the Arctic Monkeys. As eighteen-year-old gen Z-ers, we stood out.
The concert definitely felt more like a Broadway show than it did a typical indie rock gig. Except for the group in front of the stage, most people sat in seats, sometimes moving from side to side in their chairs but rarely standing up. Personally, I feel that concerts should be an opportunity to dance and feel the music through your body. Because it was The Strokes, though, the sedentary position was worth it.
Hinds, an all-female indie group from Spain, opened the show with a few songs. They almost seemed like a young, Spanish, female version of The Strokes. Strong bass chords and upbeat guitar resembled the headlining band quite closely. However, unfortunately for Hinds, the crowd was too excited for The Strokes to barely even clap when they had finished their set.
Next up was Mac DeMarco. “Salad Days” and “Chamber of Reflection” rang across the venue. I’m still not convinced that Mac was the right choice to open a Strokes concert; his laid-back, almost folk-indie vibe didn’t complement The Strokes’ more constructed sound. Also, while many Strokes fans like DeMarco, they definitely do not feel as passionately about him as they do The Strokes. DeMarco has headlined festivals like Gov Ball 2017, so it seems almost comical for him to open a concert that lacks his main fan base.
After Mac, the Strokes finally appeared. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. wore a yellow suit, which seemed to give him a cheerful, fluorescent glow against the black of the stage. They started with “Heart in a Cage,” a song which has an almost violent, building chord progression. “Heart in a Cage” injected a chaotic mood into the crowd; people on the floor thrashed around, and others danced in their seats.
The show also acted as a debut for The Strokes’ new album The New Abnormal. They tested out “The Adults are Talking” and “Ode to the Mets,” which left the concert-goers astounded, but buzzing with excitement for their new music. Since the Strokes hadn’t released a new album since 2013, I didn’t understand what was going on. As I rode on a New Year’s Eve haze, I started to question whether they were doing covers to songs I hadn’t heard, or if Casablancas was testing his new songs on the crowd. When The New Abnormal was released, I finally understood that those unfamiliar songs were another Casablancas power move — the band was revving up their career again.
The accompanying light show was one of the best parts of the concert. Different colors and patterns corresponded to the beats and drops in the songs. When “Juicebox” played, flashing white lights burst across the crowd, making it seem almost like the blinding, anonymous atmosphere of a club. Hearing and seeing The Strokes’ music in such a visually artistic way brought new meaning to the music. It reintegrated those old memories of finding their albums into this incredible physical experience that visually expressed the feeling of listening to an impactful song for the first time.
Just before midnight, the band brought Hinds and Mac DeMarco back onto the stage. Surprisingly, they only started counting down after the clock had already struck midnight, and they shot streamers into the crowd when they had finished. They then launched into “Last Nite,” which was a perfect way to spend the first few minutes of 2020. Then, to top off the night, they all played “Modern Girls & Old Fashioned Men,” except instead of Regina Spektor’s soprano, Mac DeMarco’s baritone sounded through Barclays Center.
That December 31st, a couple gen Z-ers’ “Someday” wish of seeing The Strokes became reality. It’s debatable whether or not the concert stayed true to the band’s early, apathetic 2000’s character or just illuminated fame’s toll on them. To me, the concert seemed jovial and laid-back, just like the band’s original ethos. This sentiment seemed obvious in the random riffs they played on stage, the counting down post-midnight, and even The Strokes’ choice to have Hinds and Mac DeMarco — two artists they definitely respect– open for them. The experience seemed incredibly valuable because it gave my friend and I, as well as many others, the opportunity to see the fan base in person and to experience the easy-going spirit of The Strokes outside of our earbuds.