Features | Concerts

The Strokes / The Walkmen

By Garin Pirnia | 10 May 2004

Since their auspicious debut Is This It? in 2001, The Strokes have received world recognition and acclaim with their rejuvenation of garage-rock music landing them in the center of mainstream pop culture. To prove their success wasn’t just a fluke, they quickly followed it up with last year's Room on Fire, cementing their status in the new rock elite. As they tour the country promoting the new record, The Strokes have been selling out almost every show -- especially in the metropolitans of New York and L.A where tickets are going for as much as $200 on Ebay. Another New York group garning a respectable amount of attention as of late are The Walkmen, especially on the heels of their critically acclaimed sophomore effort, Bows and Arrows. With the Strokes conquering the world and influencing every new band from Jet to Franz Ferdinand, it begs the question of why they would decide to play in a small club venue on some tour stops instead of a huge amphitheater. For fans, at least, it was a great choice, since it makes for a more intimate and exciting experience as was witnessed in Cincinnati at a club called Bogart’s.

Bogart’s is located down the street from the University of Cincinnati so it was no surprise that the majority of the 1,400 person crowd were college students. About 90% of the fans were under 30 and all must shop at the same thrift store because the vast majority were dressed to the nines in their vintage t-shirts or sorority girl trash/chic wear. The best thing about Bogarts is there isn’t a bad location in the house. There is an upstairs, but most of the place is open space.

Around 8, The Walkmen set the stage ablaze with their concise 40 minute set that consisted of their Saturn-commercial pseudo-hit “We’ve Been Had,” followed by one of the best songs from the new album, “Thinking Of a Dream I Had,” which pulsated throughout the venue and vibrated through the hearts of everyone within earshot of the band. The organ that figures prominently into the song never sounded so alive as it ricocheted off the walls. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser screamed at the top of his lungs: “I’m waiting for a subway tonight!” making himself susceptible to laryngitis. The surprising thing about The Walkmen’s performance is that they sound exactly -- or even better, actually -- than they do on their album, which is always a good sign of a quality live show. The Walkmen slowed things down a bit with “Hang on Siobhan” before ending the set with the amazing “Little House of Savages” -- once again causing extreme sonic absorption.

The set ended and thus began the eternal wait for The Strokes to take the stage as hipsters drank and smoked incessantly. The Strokes seemed to be taking their sweet time to set up which begs the question: what the hell were they doing backstage? Gangbanging Drew Barrymore? Finally after what seems like years, The Strokes took the stage and the crowd went absolutely insane as the colored flashing lights began, the smoke grew thicker, and all oxygen and air instantly removed itself from the place. Julian Casablancas and crew came out dressed in their usual mod wear of suits and looked fresh off the cover of Spin magazine. They began playing “New York City Cops” (which was, unfortuantely, left off nearly all releases of Is This It) causing the crowd to be riled up and get the adrenaline pumping. Julian announced the next song, Room on Fire’s “Automatic Stop,” which oddly sounded reminiscent of early Blondie. Like the Walkmen, The Strokes manage to sound similar to their albums, but would sometimes even usurp the record versions, since several of the songs contain such tremendous guitar solos it needs to be heard live.

They went on to perform a nice combination of both albums, but mainly focused on Room on Fire. “The Way it Is” was played against flashing strobe lights, was louder than hell, and was followed by strident applause from the audience. Julian asked how everyone was doing in his naturally distorted voice, barely coherent, suggesting he may be -- get this -- a little intoxicated. The Strokes then burst into “Modern Age” as fans jammed along, followed by “Someday," which got the audience boldly singing aloud to the chorus. Half way through the show, Julian paused and asked: “What day is it?” as he lit a cigarette. Then he asked: “What’s going on, party people?” He introduced the next song by saying they just practiced it backstage and it turned out to be a cover of “Salty Salute” by one of the bands they’ve been greatly influenced by—Guided by Voices. The cover was a nice respite from their material, which then segued into crowd pleaser and Room on Fire's first single, “12:51.” With “Reptilia," the crowd once again went wild as the drums, bass and guitars all came together in a noise opera with strobes included as a Stroke threw a roll of toilet paper into the audience to be randomly tossed around. The last song of the set was “Take it or Leave It” and, once again, the crowd sang along to Julian's refrain of the song's title.

Julian Casablanca has a strong stage presence and really knows how to captivate his audience by always appearing to be in control and giving a tight and polished performance. The band played for over an hour in and a half and got through most of their singles from the two albums including the tune that first gained them notoriety, “Last Nite.” They were loud, rocked hard and basically gave their fans what they wanted, which is a rarity at most concerts.

For the venue and the moderate ticket price (excluding the gratuitous Ticketmaster surcharge), it was definitely worth seeing both the Strokes and the Walkmen in concert due to their unadulterated and energetic performances. Despite the fact how popular the Strokes have become, they still try hard to impress the crowd to turn the regular followers into even bigger fans. It’ll be interesting to see if the Strokes will continue to release substantial albums or if they’ll become another fleeting fad; either way, these guys ruled the stage, and oh, what a sight it was to see.