The Strokes have been away for a long time – too damn long, some would argue.
It’s been almost five years since the band last played London, a secret show at the Dingwalls venue announced under an assumed name. Since then, the New Yorkers have released two studio albums and played some enormous festival dates – but still a headline show seemed to exist just beyond the grasp of fans in the capital.
So their return is obviously big news. A coup for Barclaycard British Summertime, the supporting cast is dotted with stunning acts. Future Islands make their return before a vast crowd, with Samuel T. Herring rising to the occasion. A group whose music thrives on intimacy, the Baltimore trio seem to reserve their best for important events – a dynamic, engrossing set, it won’t do the band’s slow-burning rise any harm at all.
Beck returned last year with ‘Morning Phase’, a sonically beautiful and often lyrically devastating release. Introverted and acoustic, subsequent shows were master-classes in how to deeply personal material into universal experiences. The American artist’s Hyde Park show, though, aims for something quite different.
Strapping on his electric guitar, Beck is in full party mode, with that classic ‘Devil’s Haircut’ riff signalling his arrival on London soil. ‘Black Tambourine’ is a lowdown dirty affair, while ‘E-Pro’ and a triumphant ‘Loser’ win over the vast Hyde Park crowd.
Returning for an extended run through ‘Where It’s At’, Beck swaps his robotic voice toy for a harmonica. Leading the crowd through a Sonny Terry style blues harp shakedown, the singer’s passionate, near religious fervour cuts right through. Allowing the band to creep back in behind him, it’s a frenzied ending to a wonderfully diverse set. Just don’t try to second-guess him.
The Strokes’ set at last week’s Primavera Sound festival seemed to divide fans. Criticised for appearing under-rehearsed, rumours of rifts within the band were heightened when footage of Albert Hammond Jr watching Julian Casablancas + The Voidz emerged – nose wrinkled, brow furrowed in evident dislike.
To an extent, these flaws are corrected tonight. The band is crisp, and – at times – electric. Equally, they have a plethora of wonderful tracks in their locker, boasting as they do one of their generation’s most immediately recognisable catalogues. Opening with ‘Is This It?’ The Strokes plunge into a sprint through some of their classics with ‘Barely Legal’ and ‘You Talk Way Too Much’ swiftly following.
‘Someday’ sounds wonderfully jaded, with ‘Hard To Explain’ spawning ferocious moshing at the front. For a moment, Julian Casablancas appears taken aback, musing: “It’s like the 90s down there”.
Yet throughout, there’s the sense that something, somewhere is wrong. A band capable of hitting truly stunning live heights, The Strokes just don’t quite connect. Sure, the set list allows for a crisp, enjoyable show but it’s no more than that. Equally, the lack of communication between band members is palpable – never the most talkative of outfits, The Strokes have allowed their studied cool to turn into icy distraction.
Ending with the power trio of ‘Juicebox’, ‘You Only Live Once’ and ‘Take It Or Leave It’, it’s impossible to grumble about a show that delivers such palpable heights. Yet it’s also difficult to enthuse, given that the only area of true tension to be discerned exists not within the music itself but onstage between the band members.
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