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The Strokes Close Out Sweetlife Fest

The Strokes Close Out Sweetlife Fest

May 2, 2011 – Concert review by Mike Duffy

Photo by Ana Gibert

The dark blue and red hues that lit the stage at Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion Sunday night made it difficult to distinguish the five thin jean- and leather-clad Strokes.

But all it took was a few minutes into the show to realize the early 2000 garage rockers were in the house.

Headlining the eco-conscious Sweetlife Festival’s first year at Merriweather, the New York quintet capped off a grey and rainy day of music with a vintage 45-minute set that drew heavily from their most popular albums, debut Is This It and 2003’s Room On Fire.

Peppering in a few cuts from their latest, March’s Angles, the Strokes announced to the nearly 20,000 in attendance that, yes, they are back, and have their roots still firmly planted in the gritty NYC street rock scene.

The Strokes followed the energetic head rush of Greg Gillis’ DJ persona, Girl Talk — who whirred the crowd into a frenzy during his hour of mash-up tracks, mixing shockers like 50 Cent with Vampire Weekend and rapper Lupe Fiasco with Crystal Castles.

Cold War Kids, Ra Ra Riot and local DC upstarts U.S. Royalty were also on the bill, but throughout the entire soggy event, there was no doubt that it was a Strokes show through and through.

Taking the stage around 9 p.m., Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas and the guys turned the clock back 10 years with the title track from their first record.

A dreamy way to begin the show, with the song’s chunky guitars and Casablancas’ palliative cadence, the fans swayed back and forth in unison.

Of course, the plaintive notes of “Is This It” gave way to Angles new wave single, “Under The Cover Of Darkness,” which sent the mostly teen and mid-20s crowd ablaze. The pit was a rollicking sea of people bopping to the music, while a glance back at the expansive lawn had a solid mix of long-form noodlers and hipster head-nodders.

“You guys are the best. I’m not gonna lie. That’s not my shtick…” the typically tight-lipped Casablancas told the crowd after three songs. “But you guys are the best crowd we’ve played to so far. God bless you.”

Photo by Ana Gibert

The energy only built throughout the night – despite a mid-set offering of “Under Control,” which sounded like it would be a perfect fit for a high-school prom slow dance.

The Strokes weathered that mellow moment by bouncing back with Angles’ glitchy cut “Games” and 2001’s hard-charging “New York City Cops,” which was removed from the U.S. release of Is This It after the September 11 attacks.

Casablancas’ voice grew into a growl, and guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr., traded sharp riffs on tunes like “I Can’t Win,” “Gratisfaction” and “Automatic Stop,” while Nikolai Fraiture’s Fender bass took the focus during classics like “Someday” and the ominously thumping “Reptilia.”

In all, the Strokes were seriously on point, doing what they do best.

No autotune. No pyro. No gimmicks. One could say — sorry, Julian — they were simply performing their shtick. 

The Strokes weren’t as loose as they were at, say, Coachella, but then again, who really is?  Spending three days in the desert can make anyone get a little wobbly, and that’s what the Strokes were during early April’s banter-filled headlining gig in California.

Now it’s obvious that these defeaters of the early-decade bubblegum-pop swoon are readying themselves for a comeback from the ether. 

Nearly every member of the band had been working on a side project during an extended break after touring on 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, but there was not a moment to the show that was not pure Strokes.

As a reminder, Sweetlife culminated in two of their hardest classics, “Reptilia” and “Take It Or Leave It,” which sent everyone to the parking lots thinking about a life 10 years ago, when the Strokes were abolishing N*Sync and Napster was the music mover du jour.

“In many ways they’ll miss the good old days,” Casablancas sang earlier on “Someday.” 

What the heck is an iPod again?

Setlist 

1. Is This It
2. Under Cover of Darkness
3. The Modern Age
4. Life Is Simple in the Moonlight
5. I Can’t Win
6. Hard To Explain
7. Under Control
8. Games
9. New York City Cops
10. Taken for a Fool
11. Someday
12. Gratisfaction
13. Automatic Stop
14. Reptilia
15. Last Nite
16. Take It Or Leave It

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