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Miami City Rockers

The Strokes
The Jackie Gleason Theater
Miami, Florida

The Strokes would make a great Clash cover band. And they proved it at Miami’s Jackie Gleason Theater on March 16th, where the group’s performance of the London Calling track “Clampdown” proved to be one of the night’s highlights.

At first, it seemed antithetical: a white collar crew of hipsters known for their theft of New Wave bass lines, covering an anti-establishment anthem by the seminal punk leftists? But few remember that Joe Strummer attended boarding school too. Though the Strokes’ elliptical guitar sound and coy lyrical disaffection owe more to proto and post-punkers than the reggae-tinged protest rants of the Clash, the band did more than just pantomime Joe Strummer’s affected snarling, Mick Jones’s guttural guitar and Topper Headon’s militant drumming. Nick Valensi’s brash strumming and Albert Hammond Jr.’s clangy flourishes offered a power-charged rendition that stayed faithful to the pugnacity of the original. Though it was a bit hard to swallow Julian Casablancas spouting the combative declaration, “We will teach our twisted speech/To the young believers,” he effectively channeled Strummer through a performance that was half-homage to the punk-rocker and half-indebted to the vocal bluster of Strokes tracks like “Take It Or Leave It” and “The Way It Is.” Though the guitars occasionally muffled his lyrics, the lead singer’s growling bared through.

Though the stuffy atmosphere of a theater was less rock’n’roll than that of a general admission club, the fans bum-rushed the stage anyway, fending off the bouncers who vainly attempted to return attendees to their assigned seats. The band members stalked confidently onstage like a Reservoir Dogs-style posse, each player lighting a cigarette as he emerged from the offstage darkness (shy bassist Nikolai Fraiture the sole exception). Casablancas, sporting a dapper black suit rather than his usual just-rolled-out-of-bed attire, took the mic with a comfortable affability, his potty-mouthed repartee lending the venue a more intimate feel.

The band attacked Room on Fire material with an audacity that seemed to be lacking last October when they played New York City’s Theater at Madison Square Garden; renditions of “Reptilia” and “The End Has No End” seemed more polished after months on the road, the guitar-playing tighter, Fabrizio Moretti’s drumming more dynamic, Casablancas’s singing more poised. On “12:51” and “Is This It?,” the singer strayed from the vocal languor he displays on studio versions of the songs to offer a more emphatic performance. The band also gave show-stopping renditions of older songs “New York City Cops” and “Hard to Explain.”

Casablancas treated the audience to the occasional vignette (the track “What Ever Happened?” was inspired his disgust at VH1’s “100 Pop Culture Icons” countdown show) and engaged in onstage camaraderie with his bandmates. The band seemed to enjoy themselves so much that the exuberant audience stayed tempered while Casablancas & Co.breaked between songs to giggle with each other. If only the Clash had gotten along so well.