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Showtime: The Strokes’ Casablancas at the Armory.

This Is It

By John Brodeur

The Strokes, South, the Loyalty

Washington Avenue Armory, Oct. 6

For all the silver spoons they supposedly came up choking on, the five strapping young lads of the Strokes have had to work hard to stay on their game. They’ve proved their mettle on the live circuit time and time again, and last Friday, they rolled into the Washington Avenue Armory in the final stage of a yearlong tour to support their latest record (First Impressions of Earth).

Throughout a 20-song set that primarily drew from First Impressions and their 2001 debut (Is This It?), the band sounded pristine and ready to rumble. Their reliability—I’ve seen them twice before, and the playing never disappoints—puts the onus on the shoulders of frontman Julian Casablancas. It’s up to him to carry the show, and on Friday he seemed up to the challenge, ad-libbing through older songs like “Last Nite” and busting out some wonky dance moves on “You Only Live Once.” His voice wasn’t half-bad either: The screams on “Juicebox” were better live than on record (even though he claimed to have “fucked that one up”), and he did his very best lounge-singer impression on “Heart in a Cage.”

The few times his enthusiasm waned, it showed. On “Ask Me Anything,” Casablancas repeatedly croaked, “I’ve got nothing to say,” accompanied only by Nick Valensi on keyboard. The recorded version is two minutes too long; live, it should have been struck entirely. Same goes for the band’s flat encore treatment of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”—Casablancas’ comment that they had “butchered a classic” was less an aside than an admission.

But the band handily compensated for any shortcomings. You really couldn’t build a better performing unit: Bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti make a mighty economic rhythm section, tight as a clock’s tick and rarely flashy; Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. are equally as frugal with their interlocking guitar licks, making their occasional lead turns all the more dazzling.

The undeniable highlight of the show—and the band’s career, thus far—was the First Impressions track “Vision of Division.” The song’s dizzying compound of guitar riffs and fusion-inspired soloing should be the band’s calling card, even though the song contains some of Casablancas’ most dreadful lyrics. It was also the only point in the evening when the frantic strobe lighting was actually called for. (The rest of the Strokes’ lightshow, like the music itself, was nicely understated and hip.)

At the beginning of their support set, British quintet South may have tried a bit too hard to sell themselves to the Strokes’ audience: Their first few numbers unimpressively mashed ’70s disco-dance grooves (comparisons to the Bee Gees’ “More Than a Woman” were unavoidable) with skanky guitar riffs that best resembled, well, the Strokes. The true South were revealed as they played on—the latter two-thirds of their set played like ’90s Britpop (Bends Radiohead, early Oasis) crossed with vintage New Order; they brought that second comparison full-circle by gamely covering “Bizarre Love Triangle.”

Word has it that the Loyalty won their 30-minute opening slot by grabbing more than 50 percent of the total vote count in an online ballot—out of five nominated bands, even. Theirs is a winning formula: Travis Gray’s vocals are more appealing than most of his emo-pop counterparts, and the young (as in fresh-out-of-study-hall) quartet showed a great deal of promise, even when their stop-start rhythms overshadowed the hooks.

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