A proper Summer afternoon in Hyde Park London. As Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas says – “I like what you’ve done with the place London… loving the no cloud look”. The New York band are the main attraction, but with the afternoon heat at it’s strongest, it is Future Islands who take the stage. Their swirling keyboards echo around the park as they warm-up the crowd with a set filled largely with tracks from their fantastic 2014 album Singles. Frontman Samuel Herring’s whacky, wiry dancing is reminiscent of legendary Joy Division singer, the late Ian Curtis, and like all great frontmen, he has the audience’s eyes fixed on him throughout the set. As well as opening for Beck and The Strokes, Future Islands have the honour of giving the crowd the first singalong of the day with a rollocking version of Seasons (Waiting On You).
You’d be hard pushed to find a more sharply dressed man in London as Beck takes to the stage, with the sun still shining brightly. He greets his audience with the buzzing guitars of Devil’s Haircut before getting everyone dancing in the heat to the bass grooves of Black Tambourine. It is mainly older material, with only one track from his grammy award-winning album Morning Phase, but it doesn’t seem to bother the punters through a soulful Blue Moon and huge singalong to Loser. For his encore, he does what no-one thought possible…he comes out looking ever sharper than he did before, in a white suit, finishing with a mash-up of One Foot In The Grave and Where It’s At. The audience howl with delight every time he puts the harmonica to his lips. It’s a set worthy of headlining, which begs the question during the changeover… can the night’s actual headliners match it?
2014’s Comedown Machine was met with universal ambivalence by fans and critics alike, and it’s been five years since The Strokes last played in London. Though there is of course an air of excitement before they take the stage, I expected it to die down at some point, which proves I need to work on my vibe-radar. Hyde Park does not have a roof…obviously. But if it did… then it would have been torn off. With a set largely built up of hits from their seminal debut Is This It? Julian and co don’t put a foot wrong. They start right at the beginning, first track off the first album – Is This It? has everyone singing and swaying whilst they take in the arrival of the night’s main attraction. They immediately raise the tempo several notches by launching into Barely Legal, and that signature fuzzy guitar sound transports everyone back to 2001. The first big singalong comes early in the set, with Someday, a song which was built for beautiful, cool Summer nights like this. It is followed by thunderous versions of Hard To Explain and Heart In A Cage (the first of four songs from their third album First Impressions of Earth).
Casablancas compares the night like an old pro, putting his own spin on the whole showmanship schtick. Never have I seen a frontman constantly make fun of the audience in such a way without incurring their wrath. One minute he is cheekily calling everyone a bunch “yuppies”, the next he is pretending to introduce Shabba Ranks, who obviously, is not there. The general consensus seems to be, “He is Julian Casablancas, he can insult us and our families if he wants to”. The vocals are on point, as he casually patrols the stage every now and then, remaining attached to his mic-stand for the most part.
Although they may not have chart ‘hits’ as such, The New Yorkers show-off their impressive repertoire , with big tune after big tune. No point is the strength of their legacy more apparent than just over halfway, Reptilia follows Last Night, and the crowd are singing every word, every riff…even trying to vocalise the guitar solos, with Albert Hammond Jnr’s white Stratocaster catching the strobe lights as he plays that iconic lick on Last Night.
The reaction to the lead single off 2011’s Angles, proves that The Strokes are much more than just a one-album band. Undercover of Darkness is one of the highlights of the show, before they move through One Way Trigger (one of only two songs played off their newest album). Another ground-shaking rendition of an Is This It? classic closes the main set, as the guitars feedback at both start and finish for New York City Cops.
Needless to say the audience aren’t going anywhere, but what is there left to play? Surely all the big tunes finished? Within seconds of their encore, everyone remembers… these guys have A LOT of tunes. That lull I was worried about? Yeah…Not going to happen. Casablancas and his audience both do their best to rupture their vocal chords, screaming – “WHY DON’T YOU COME OVER HERE!?” to the chorus of Juicebox. Everyone has a few seconds to gain their breathe before the final singalong of You Only Live Once, and Nick Valensi’s scorching closing solo on Take It Or Leave It.
What happens next to The Strokes with their new releases and so-on? God knows. With lovers of guitar music still rooting for them, hopefully their next effort will be the rebirth they failed to capture on their last effort. If they continue to play live though, lovers of the band shouldn’t fear. The Strokes proved that fourteen years on, as the phrase goes…. “they still got it”. As they walk off stage, their guitars still feeding back across Hyde Park, we leave with the knowledge that no matter what the future might hold in store for them, we have been lucky enough to witness a set from a band whose music clearly has and will stand the test of time. A true headline performance, from a true headline act.
The full set-list for ‘The Strokes’ was as follows…
Is This It?
Welcome To Japan
You Talk Way Too Much
Heart In A Cage
Hard To Explain
Vision of Division
Undercover of Darkness
One Way Trigger
New York City Cops
You Only Live Once
Take It Or Leave It