January 12th, 2010
When I arrived at the 9:30 Club on Tuesday night, the music emanating from the place was loud enough to make me realize that opening act, Tanlines was already onstage. Upon entering the venue, I realized this “band” was actually a duo, with one guy playing guitar and the other doing something with a couple of laptops, an electric drum and what looked to be some sort of effects machine. The result was no different than what you might hear if you stepped into any run of the mill dance club with a DJ, the only exception being the guitar, which was nearly unnoticeable over the thump-thump of the beats. I guess the danceable music was fun, but watching it live wasn’t all that exciting. Tanlines (Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm) made sure we all knew who they were and where they were from as I’m pretty sure I heard “Tanlines…Brooklyn, New York” after almost every song. Still, why am I finding it so hard to remember anything distinguishing about them or their music? Pass.
We all know Julian Casablancas from his day job as lead singer for seminal, garage rock titans The Strokes. The vocalist was going it alone tonight however, playing the 9:30 Club in support of his debut solo album, the recently released “Phrazes for the Young”. When the lights dimmed, Julian’s backing band took the stage and started right into “Tourist” off of the new album. After a few bars of the song had been played, Casablancas strutted onto the stage like the rock star that he is, casually grabbed his microphone and began singing in that laid back, monotone voice that just oozes cool.
If you haven’t heard the solo material, it is very much unlike the minimalist, scaled back garage rock of his other band, but is instead a grand production that incorporates everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. From the dance-pop lead single “11th Dimension” to “Ludlow St.”, which might sound at home in an old western saloon, to the tripped out synth-rock of “River of Breaklights”, you get the sense that Julian is experimenting with anything and everything that doesn’t fit within the confines of The Strokes template.
To that end, it takes a good amount of instrumentation to recreate this full sound in a live setting, which is why Casablancas was backed by two guitarists, two keyboardists, a drummer and a percussionist who occasionally became a third guitarist. Julian is not one to interact much with the audience, so it was interesting to hear a little humor from him as he was forced to ad lib when his drummer’s kick pedal broke during the first song in the set. Julian - “So Maryland is close by? Who’s from Maryland?”…cheers from a good portion of the crowd…Julian – “You guys have the coolest flag of all…it’s so cool I want to wear it…I have no affiliation though”.
Equipment malfunctions aside, Julian and company proceeded to play through nearly every song off of the solo record. The tunes translated perfectly to the live setting…the grand sound of all those guitars and keyboards filling the venue from wall to wall. A few surprises were thrown in here and there, including a b-side and one song that Julian and his band apparently “threw together before the show”. The crowd seemed to eat it all up, leaving no doubt that Julian Casablancas is still one of the reigning kings of rock n roll…Strokes or no Strokes.