The last time Julian Casablancas performed in Cleveland was April 2006 at the Agora. I remember two key things: First, Casablancas and the rest of the Strokes were stumbling drunk, occasionally forgetting lyrics and messing up entire parts of songs with wrong notes. Second, nobody gave a shit — it was the Strokes, after all. We were just glad they were in Cleveland.
Four years later, I was hoping for a little more when Casablancas played House of Blues on Saturday. And he delivered. Performing most of the songs from his solo debut, Phrazes for the Young, the New York native showcased tunes that sounded like the Strokes’ Is This It? injected with a large syringe of the ‘80s.
The dude must like symmetry; his band is made up of two guitar players, two guys on keys/synths and a female-male drum duo.
Casablancas sported red pants and his signature leather jacket onstage, launching immediately into the slow, shuffling “Ludlow St.,” which showcased his hidden talent. In all his years with the Strokes, his smooth and (dare I say?) pretty voice never was a big focus. “River of Brakelights” was a full-forced wall of sound, with guitar after guitar piled on for a dirty, crunchy buzz.
True mayhem broke loose when the band started playing the Strokes' “Hard to Explain.” A huge cluster of young fans in Strokes T-shirts flooded the front of the stage, causing Casablancas to remark that his favorite part of the tour so far was the guy in the audience who just did a “zombie seizure” dance.
“Hard to Explain” transitioned into an acoustic take on another Strokes song, “You Only Live Once,” which Casablancas prefaced with, “Here’s a B-side you guys have probably never heard.”
What Casablancas’ solo material lacks in guitar riffs he made up for in polyrhythmic bliss and danceable synths. “11th Dimension” was a playground of rhythmic trickery and digitized vocals. “Tourist” fueled Casablancas’ second encore with an exotic Middle Eastern flair and intricate bleeping synthesizer effects.
None of the songs ever reached the intensity level of the Strokes, which means we’ll have to wait for the band to get back together for full gratification.
But let’s not be too picky — Casablancas remembered the words, and the band remembered its parts. One down, one to go. —Danielle Sills