23 Oct 2001: Stubb's Austin, Texas
Maybe because this is Texas, maybe because they were playing an oversized barbeque joint, The Strokes took the stage like a quintet of spaghetti western cowboys (no hats, of course, just five shaggy heads) and opened fire with guitars and drums. When you’re the most-hyped American band of the moment, it’s best to stay away from fanfare, but all these young dudes kept to the script of playing the songs—often in sequence—from their acclaimed “Is This It” debut.
The Velvet Underground comparisons come easy listening to the atonal interplay of fuzzy guitars, but the band draws upon a cornucopia of American influences large and small, from a time before these young twentysomethings were born. There’s guitarist Nick Valensi’s borrowed lines from Tom Petty’s “American Girl”—which permeates the band’s single “Last Nite”—to an overall frantic restlessness overlaid with a dreamy quality reminiscent of cult band The Feelies. After the jangly “Last Nite”, frontman Julian Casablancas turned away to light a cigarette but the smoke break did not relax his pace. Without hesitation they plowed ahead into the next song like they were trying to beat the clock. Other than a few short song introductions (“This song is called ‘Soma’”), Casablancas did not gab with the crowd.
Casablancas seems lost in his own world on stage, as if he needs to be reminded of the audience just outside arm’s reach. He could have mentioned how the show was moved from the confined interior of the club to the much larger outdoor stage, or even garnered sympathetic adulation by speaking of the band’s New York City hometown, but maybe he hates chit-chat. For the band, it was just the business at hand of delivering the songs in a tight 45-minute set (a time limit which openers, NYC hippie art rockers Moldy Peaches, should be confined to by the way, even if Spiderman plays bass in the band).
With The Strokes, what you hear on “Is This It” is what you get: meaning songs like “Someday”, “Hard to Explain”, “The Modern Age” and the title track, as well as the tune criticizing NYC cops (called “NYC Cops”) that got pulled at the last minute from the album. It’s a good/bad thing as they are able to faithfully recreate the pleasant noise on their debut, but deliberate guitar gesturing distinct from the super angular rhythmic arrangements of their songs is almost woefully absent. Myself, I expected more of a loose punk attitude (a silly Ramones cover would be nice) instead of such New Wave precision. But none in the sell-out crowd put them down, no one blames them for being a bunch of long-haired guys playing out a garage band fantasy. And Casablancas did seem to make one concession to local dialect in introducing the last song, “Take It Or Leave It”, when he said, “We’ve got one more: thank y’all”. So then he screams the blazing finale, before they ride off for new adventures in anti-show biz:
“. . . take it or leave it
Oh, just take it or leave it
And take it or leave it
Oh, take it.”