Julian Casablancas @ House of Blues on 4/3/10
The last time Julian Casablancas performed in Cleveland was April of 2006, at the Agora. My memory escapes me, but I remember two key things. First, Casablancas and the rest of The Strokes were stumbling drunk, occasionally forgetting lyrics and often messing up entire parts of the song with wrong notes. Second, nobody gave a shit – it was The Strokes, after all. We were just glad they were in Cleveland.
Yet four years later, I was hoping for a little more, and Casablancas delivered. Performing most of the songs from his solo debut, Phrazes for the Young, the New York native showcased tunes that sounded like The Strokes’ Is This It? injected with a large syringe of the ‘80s. The dude must like symmetry; his band is made up of two guitar players, two guys on keyboard/synthesizer, and a female-male drum duo.
Casablancas strode onto the stage in red pants and his signature leather jacket, starting immediately with the slow shuffling of “Ludlow St.,” which showcased Casablancas’ hidden talent; in all his years with The Strokes, his smooth and (dare-I-say?) pretty voice never was a big focus. “River of Brakelights” was a full-forced wall of sound, with guitar after guitar piled on for a dirty, crunchy buzz.
True mayhem broke loose when the band started into The Strokes “Hard to Explain.” A huge cluster of high school kids in Strokes t-shirts flooded the front of the crowd, making Casablancas remark that his favorite part of the tour so far was the guy in the audience who just did the “zombie seizure” dance. “Hard to Explain” transitioned into an acoustic take on another Strokes song, “You Only Live Once,” that Casablancas prefaced with, “Here’s a b-side you guys have probably never heard.”
What Casablancas’ solo material lacks in guitar riffs he made up for in polyrhythmic bliss and danceable synths. “11th Dimension” was a playground of rhythmic trickery and digitized vocals. “Tourist” fueled Casablancas’ second encore with an exotic Middle Eastern flair and intricate bleeping synthesizer effects. None of the songs ever reached the intensity level of The Strokes, which means we’ll have to wait for the band to get back together for full gratification. But let’s not be too picky – Casablancas remembered the words, and the band remembered its parts. One down, one to go.
*You can also find this review, and many other wonderful things, at www.clevescene.com.