Quick question: who were the most influential indie band of the early 2000s? Never mind. It’s The Strokes. If you said it was somebody else, Dear Reader, we’re going to have to have a word. Tonight, their set at the Roundhouse just serves to reinforce the fact that in their field, nobody comes close to matching The Strokes.
When this last-minute, minuscule-by-Strokes-standards gig was announced, we have to admit we were sceptical. We haven’t yet forgotten the sting of the infamous Dingwalls Incident of Summer 2018. (For those of you who have blocked out the painful memory and need a reminder, several intrepid Dork reporters and a few hundred other hopefuls queued in a pub basement for hours, before the whole thing was revealed to be a hoax. We still don’t like to talk about it. No further questions, please.) Coming hot on the heels of the announcement for their new album ‘The New Abnormal’, such an intimate gig on our fair shores seemed like too much good news at once to really be true. And yet.
When the Strokes swagger onstage, they’re greeted like returning heroes. After they were plagued by problems at last summer’s All Points East headline, the feeling was that both band and fans had been robbed of the celebration they deserved. As things kick off with ‘Someday’, though, it’s immediately clear that tonight nobody is going to be short-changed. They are laid back but controlled, deftly walking their well-trodden path between studied cool and absolute chaos. The size of the venue turns the atmosphere into a pressure cooker, with the raw energy of songs like ‘Heart in a Cage’ feeling even sharper than usual.
Nominally, the reason for this enormous underplay is to celebrate the announcement of ‘The New Abnormal’, so something would be a little bit amiss if The Strokes didn’t play their new material. To that end, we get airings of both ‘The Adults Are Talking’ and ‘Bad Decisions’. Both songs are tight, but set alongside the adrenaline of their earlier tracks – like the absolute bouncing banger that is ‘Take It Or Leave It’, in its first live outing since 2017 – ‘The Adults Are Talking’ comes across as slightly more understated. ‘Bad Decisions’, with its ‘Dancing With Myself’-style melody, is a more natural live fit. While Julian Casablancas jokes that he hasn’t learnt the new songs just yet, though, there’s no danger of coming across as under-cooked. Tonight The Strokes could style out anything. Or just about, at least.
The main set comes to an abrupt end with evergreen indie club night crowd-pleaser ‘Last Nite’, as Julian takes the song’s final line too literally and swans off-stage like a cabaret emcee bowing out. The band follow, with the exception of Albert Hammond Jr who turns around to quite clearly demand what the hell the rest of them are doing. Then he shrugs, tosses his plectrum into the crowd and mimes throwing his guitar after it, before he too disappears. Of course, there’s no question of that really being the end of things. The Strokes return for their encore with the blistering ‘Juicebox’, the thrumming bass riff pushing an already high-octane atmosphere into overdrive. It was meant to be the last song before the encore, Julian explains.
“I think I freaked everyone out with my ‘I’m walking out that door’,” he drawls. “I was just acting out the last line.”
They shred through ‘What Ever Happened’, and then race on into ‘Reptilia’ to bring things to a close. Its pleas to not be slowed down feel just as relevant as ever for a band that have out-run their peers. When The Strokes walk out the door for real, they go out on a well-deserved high.
Words: Liam Konemann