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The Strokes At Madison Square Garden, Friday, April 1st, 2011

Back in the 1990s, before the Great Recession of 2008, WABC-TV used to have an annual blow out party at the Plaza Hotel, for the New York TV media buying community. It was a real blast and I met everybody from Barbara Walters to Michael J. Fox. And dozens of unbearably gorgeous soap opera starlets, who would stand real close and pose for Polaroids with you.

One year, a little drunk, and a little too self-confident, i tried to hit on a particularly pretty and bemused girl. She responded with this mix

1. Amusement

2. Entitlement

and

3. Indifference.

Saturday night, Julian Casablancas treated we the adoring fans pretty much the same way. Somewhere during "Life Is Easy In The Moonlight" and "Juicebox", Julian jumped down into the GA pit, made it out unscathed and noted "Here is how it works, we sing our little songs and you go apeshit", with all the bemusement and entitlement of a starlet being hit on by an advertising guy. I'm not complaining, Julian lead the Strokes through a fine set where they balanced achievement with self-belief to tremendous effect. But I did notice.

The night wasn't all entitlement.

Poor Devandra Banhart -a quirky, jerky, folkie angular lo-fi-y bloke from L.A., and a terrible choice for opener, did himself no favors in the cavernous MSG, though he was much better than I thought he'd be, especially the penultimate number which was all Hawaiian slide guitars, mwah mwahs, and would be fun in an entirely different setting.

Helen Bach wrote about Elvis Costello's excellent three song set Friday night and it was plenty good. Elvis would  provide a highlight of the the Strokes set as well.

The Strokes looking leathery and cool came out to a dark stage which they (stupidly) didn't make much lighter in the following 90 minutes. They opened with "Is This It?" and " Reptilian" and the set neither got much better nor much worse. It was a streamlined, rock and roll machine, a cuter, sleeker , and less gifted Ramones.

There was no rust on the gears as they played strong, tight selections from their 49 track songbook. Except for the exclusion of "12:51" and "On The Other Side" everybody got what they wanted. and Julian, in fine voice and good humor, carried the set on his back with the grace of that whom the gods seriously, seriously favor.

Setlistfm.com broke down the set as follows:

 

1   Is This It (7)
   
2   Angles (4)
   
    Room on Fire (4)
   
4   First Impressions of Earth (3)
   
   

Others (2)

So I guess they mixed it up good and around the two thirds mark the band got on a groove with "Under Control". "You Only Live Once" and "New York City Cops" which levitated the set from very good to great. For all of Strokes passion, they are a cool band. They are starlets with all the privilege that can give you and it stops em from mixing it up enough. They get samey and, if not bland, close to a trick pony. Some of these songs were singalongs, but they didn't invite theaudience to join in even once.The penultimate song before the encore,  a revelatory version of "Taken For A Fool", Julian admitting Elvis was the influence, and Elvis teaching the youngster how to tear its fucking lungs out, was everything Julian and the rest of the guys hold back on.

The Strokes are just a touch. Just a smile. They will share a drink with you but they won't give you their phone number…

 

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