Julian Casablancas Plays Strokes Songs in NYC

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Julian Casablancas / File Photo: Laurie Scavo
WRITTEN BY
William Goodman

That voice... that voice!

Julian Casablancas' finest instrument -- his dirty, rippling croon -- was in fine form Wednesday night at New York's Fillmore East, where the Strokes singer performed tracks off his SPIN-praised solo debut, Phrazes for the Young, like a hipster Sinatra in a black leather jacket and tight red pants. And he came packing special treats for the hometown crowd, too: performances of two Strokes songs!

Midway through the 70-minute gig, the 31-year-old played "I'll Try Anything Once," a slow, keyboard-only demo version of "You Only Live Once," a single off the Strokes' last release, 2006's First Impressions of Earth. The stripped-down tune -- also released as a B-side -- swapped the better known album version's sharp rock edge for warm intimacy; its big falling guitar melodies now simple keyboard taps, bringing Casablancas' smooth meditation about life's big choices to the forefront.

"Ten decisions shape your life, you'll be aware of five... / Oh, everybody plays the game, and if you don't you're called insane."

It was the show's most tender moment, highlighting Casablancas' vocal strength and interpretive ability.

When he returned to his band's origins with "Hard to Explain," off the Strokes' smash debut Is This It, its banging guitars were glossier, its vocals smoother. "That's a new one," he joked.

His solo tunes shone with a year-2042 vibe. "Out of the Blue," Phrazes' opening track, chugged on a hyper-melodic chorus with gliding guitar riffs, space-y synths, and jittery drum-machine beats; "River of Breaklights" was a sonic panic attack with breakneck beats and frantic guitars that blasted effected laser sounds; and "11th Dimension" sounded like the perfect fit for the final credits in the upcoming Tron remake, with its pulsing key melodies and neon-bright chorus.

But what does the actual future hold for Casablancas? The Strokes are currently recording their new album in a New York studio and, as SPIN.com wrote, the band is tracking the new tunes without Casablancas, who will later add his vocals. "I'm pretty opinionated," he admitted. "I'm not pushy to the point where it's my way or no way. I felt if I wasn't in the room, and wasn't saying that, they could spread their wings, if you will."

Casablancas' musical opinions are clearly strong -- and as Wednesday night's set reaffirmed, they resulted in the best solo album yet from the Strokes bunch.

Julian Casablancas setlist:
"Ludlow Street"
"River of Brakelights"
"Left & Right in the Dark"
Untitled New Song
"11th Dimension"
"I'll Try Anything Once"
"30 Minute Boyfriend"
"Hard to Explain"
"Glass"
"Out of the Blue"
"Tourist"
"I Wish It Was Christmas Today"
"4 Chords of the Apocalypse"

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