If this pop star thing doesn’t work out, Julian Casablancas has a great future as a production designer.
The 31-year-old Strokes frontman unveiled his synth-pop side with a splash on Friday night, kicking off a four-week residency behind his solo album Phrazes for the Young with a performance at Los Angeles’ Downtown Palace Theatre that was visually stunning, if a bit sonically oppressive.
The sliding murals behind Casablancas’ seven-piece band flowed with landscapes, cityscapes, waterscapes, dreamscapes, kaleidoscopic projections and post-apocalpytic montages – a very “Old Hollywood” setting for the rocker’s new persona.
The sets were conceived by Casablancas himself, in conjunction with art director/production designer Keith Greco, who has worked with Cirque du Soleil, among others. The visuals gave the 75-minute show an over-the-top quality even beyond the band’s blaring, intricately layered pop – a two-headed beast of driving guitar-and-drums and preening synths-with-electro beats.
Alas, it was too much at times for the partially renovated Palace, a 98-year-old Florentine Renaissance-styled theater that was making its rock concert debut after years of use primarily as a film locale (including 2006’s Dreamgirls). The imported sound system occasionally overpowered the sold-out room, whose 1,000 or so attendees included Casablancas’ Strokes bandmates Albert Hammond Jr. and Fabrizio Moretti, as well as Devendra Banhart and his band.
But the performance was nothing if not brave. “Your faith has got to be bigger than your fear,” Casablancas sings on the single “11th Dimension,” and the singer backed up his words on that song, as well as “Out of the Blue” and “Tourist,” to rousing applause, and injected a tinge of wounded soul man in his oh-so-cool quaver on “4 Chords of the Apocalypse.”
The current resident of Silver Lake (he and expectant wife Juliet are renting a house there) reciprocated the crowd’s adulation. “Fuckin’ L.A.,” he intoned at one point. “Wait. That sounded like a really negative thing, but what I mean is ‘Fuckin’ L.A.‘I dig it out here, and I dig you people.”
After seven songs and barely 40 minutes, Casablancas announced an intermission – for, as it turned out, quite possibly the first costume change in Strokes history.
He and his band returned, decked out in white, playing behind alabaster music stands. After “30 Minute Boyfriend” and “Left & Right in the Dark,” Casablancas, accompanied only by keyboardist Nelson London, slowed down for a swipe at the Strokes rarity “I’ll Try Anything Once,” stumbling and good-naturedly asking for a do-over at “Don’t don’t don’t don’t / it’s not safe anymore” in the second verse.
Okay, so he might have some work to do as a crooner.
But he’ll be here all month, folks.
Out of the Blue
River of Brakelights
4 Chords of the Apocalypse
30 Minute Boyfriend
Lieft & Right in the Dark
I’ll Try Anything Once