Coming Home on Crutches and Filling Radio City
By KELEFA SANNEH
“Come on, just cheer, make us feel good,” Julian Casablancas said on Thursday night, and if the request was unnecessary, the attitude of bleary petulance was nevertheless charming. “I’ve never been in here,” he said, glancing around at Radio City Music Hall. “It’s nice.”
The Strokes, the New York band led by Mr. Casablancas, made their debut last fall with a superb half-hour disc called “Is This It” (RCA). The group has been touring the world ever since, playing concerts that don’t last much longer than the album. Thursday’s sold-out performance was another victorious homecoming and more evidence that the Strokes are one of the country’s best rock ‘n’ roll bands.
Mr. Casablancas recently injured his knee, so he hobbled onstage with crutches, tossed them aside and sat down at a microphone. Maybe he’s onto something: although his band likes to play simple, anxious riffs, Mr. Casablancas often croons in a languorous voice that evokes a drunk (and slightly belligerent) lounge singer; being seated only heightened the effect.
The group has a knack for squeezing several tunes into one song. The two guitarists often play jagged, interlocking parts while the bassist adds a more propulsive countermelody, and Mr. Casablancas often sings along with one instrument during the verse and another during the chorus.
There were a few guitar solos, but the band is more interested in creating the perfect break, when almost everything stops and one or two instruments keep going. In “Barely Legal,” there was a moment just before the chorus when the band stopped abruptly, and the guitars played one chord for four bars, accompanied by blinding white lights. The anthemic chorus that followed was almost anticlimactic.
The Strokes have always understood the power of the offbeat, and one of the new songs suggested an intriguing new direction for the group. The chorus sounded familiar enough ï¿½ Mr. Casablancas sang, “I never needed anybody” ï¿½ but the accompaniment was a surprise: a reggae guitar line.
The Strokes’ current single is “Someday,” a nearly perfect song about a lover who’s not quite devoted enough to feel nostalgic. “Alone we stand, together we fall apart,” Mr. Casablancas sang, reaching for one of the highest notes he hit all night. But by the next line, he had returned to his usual range, and the old ambivalence was back, too: “Yeah, I think I’ll be all right.”
The opening act was the White Stripes, a Detroit-based duo that has earned almost as much acclaim as the Strokes. The singer and guitarist Jack White kept referring to the drummer as “my older sister Meg,” even though nobody believes they’re really siblings. (They are widely reported to be a divorced couple.)
The performance was so messy it almost seemed like a rehearsal, with Mr. White creating squalls of guitar noise that loosely corresponded to Ms. White’s simple drum patterns. He delivered most of the lyrics in a Led Zeppelin shriek, but during quieter moments the group sounded more mysterious and more urgent. He sang “We’re Going to Be Friends” from the group’s current album, “White Blood Cells” (Third Man/V2), in a voice so gentle and affectionate that one suspected he was hiding a monstrous secret.