Live: Julian Casablancas Reps Manhattan at Terminal 5
Friday, January 16
Julian Casablancas went electro with the rest of Manhattan--and way late, at that--but know this: he did not sell out. Whatever you think of last fall's hyperextended, twitchily poppy solo debut, Phrazes for the Young, even if you sigh that its synth beats and "Yuppies invading!" ("Ludlow St") disclaimer indicated his exodus from the early-aughts New New York Scene he spawned, he did not fill Terminal 5 to capacity on Friday night. This is distressing--though he did max out Thursday's gig in the same space--because it feels like a blemish on the endurance of Manhattan rock itself. Another point for Brooklyn?
But Casablancas is still a killer frontman, just clearly a different kind now. Terminal 5's clinical steel balconies reflect his punishing green spotlights as he shimmies broadly to center stage, wearing enough studded leather to satiate Oscar Wilde (whose Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young quips are frequently alluded on Casablanca's solo record). His monotone roar is still unbreakable, and he won't need, or receive any vocal assistance from his band, a curious range of characters that includes a muttonchopped Metallica-understudy guitarist and a lithe female drummer in teeny hotpants. Casablancas dances like he's shaking Yahtzee dice out of a cup, hands his tall metal mike stand into the front row for a few minutes (thanks?), and encourages everyone in the crowd to mate, in so many words--and no one in the crowd looks youthful enough to have missed the Strokes their first time around. First single "11th Dimension" is a highlight: the band eeks its clipped synths into gradual, sweeping bombast, the sort of stadium bravado the Strokes were the LES antithesis of when they broke in 2001, but Casablancas bears it nonchalantly.
The Strokes were the meter of New York attitude a decade ago, challenging the downtown scene to match their sharp brilliance. But Casablancas is on the other side of the coin by going electro. Maybe he believes it, too--a contemplative Strokes cover "The Way It Is" from Room on Fire (as one actual, relic lighter glows sympathetically from the front row), and he closes with another man's phenomenon by covering "I Wish It Was Christmas Today" which Jimmy Fallon helped make famous on SNL.
And sure, it's not his song, just a Phrazes for the Young bonus song and something he joined some pals to perform on Late Night once, and by no calendar Gregorian nor Mayan is this relevant to sing in mid-January. But damned if Casablancas doesn't rip it apart like a star, jack-knifing over his mic, howling, "All I know is that Santa's sleigh/Is making its way to the USA," making this ridiculous moment completely awesome. Whatever shifts with him and his band, whatever eyebrow-raising direction he takes, this charisma doesn't waver. It's as patriotic as some of us can ever get. Whatever he did Friday, you shoulda been there for it.