I was forewarned, and I should have listened.
When someone from a rowdy group of drunk teenagers behind you taps you on the shoulder and says, "FYI, we're gonna push when the Strokes come onstage," it's probably wise to move. It had been a long time since New York-based band had performed in the U.S., so any warning of chaos--however calmly delivered--should have been well-heeded. We were in the fancy, carpeted ballroom on the fourth floor of the freshly opened Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Cups and lemon slices littered the floor, and various kinds of smoke billowed around us. These people were ready. But alas, this Y! Music writer thought she could roadblock in five-inch heels when the time came...
This year, the Strokes return with their fourth album Angles, five years after their last release, First Impressions Of Earth. Before their Vegas show last March 12, they hadn't performed much since their 2006 tour, save for the 2010 Outside Lands and Lollapalooza festivals and a secret performance in the U.K. last year to an audience of just 487. The capacity at the sold-out Chelsea ballroom show last Saturday at the Cosmopolitan was just 558, but the crowd seemed endless in the confined space.
Opening act Devendra Banhart & the Grogs were less than cordially welcomed, when they hit the stage to a mixed response of cheering and disappointment. One guy behind me screamed, "It's not the Strokes! Stop cheering!" Throughout Devendra's performance, rabid Strokes fans heckled him and his band in ways I can't repeat on this site, but there were still some who danced and sang along.
Personal friends with the Strokes, Devendra gave a heartfelt speech about their grand comeback, calling them "an amulet" and commending them for "never acquiescing to anything but playing soul music." Devendra Banhart & the Grogs will also be supporting the Strokes for their sold-out Madison Square Garden show in April.
With Banhart off the stage, the crowd grew more anxious and belligerent, and the rowdy kids behind me started asking if I'm married or have a boyfriend. Luckily they quickly moved on to bugging Alia Shawkat (Maeby from Arrested Development), who was standing right in front of me in a pretty vintage pastel pink dress and green jellies with rolled-down socks. She inspired me to stand my ground after she shoved back an obnoxious redhead trying to cut in front of her. People started sitting on the floor. More eye contact-avoiding time passed, and finally the lights dimmed as the Strokes stepped out onstage.
Then came the riot...
Like a crowd that hadn't eaten in weeks heading towards a Vegas buffet, there was a mad rush towards stage that I never experienced, even in my punk show days. The floor was literally shaking, and anyone within a hundred feet from the stage was immediately displaced. Phones and drinks were hurled into the air as I found myself being carried away against my will.
The Strokes started off with the suitably ironic "I Can't Win," having sold out a 20,000 seat venue and headlining some of the biggest festivals in the world this year, including Coachella and Japan's Summer Sonic. Anarchy continued for at least five or six songs, with people crowd-surfing, tearful girlfriends being carried away, and security plucking kids out of the front because the crowd was crushing them against the barricade. A gatecrasher jumped onstage and sang along with lead vocalist Julian Casablancas before being tackled by security. Casablancas said the guy had a good voice. This, ladies and gentlemen, was a rock show.
Casablancas--now sober, married, and a father--was charmingly generic during his onstage banter, with all the thank you's and alright's. His distinct singing voice resonated with such surreal perfection that it sounded eerily close to a recording. Earlier, the folks beside me reminisced about a pre-sobriety time when Casablancas smashed a guitar into the drum kit during "Reptilia," smiling as he did it. In the middle of a particularly directionless filler chat with the audience, Casablancas made a terrible heaving sound and spat to the ground. I'm not certain if he actually vomited, but it was enough that a roadie came out and mopped up.
The rest of the band was relatively calm and very well-rehearsed, even with the unusually steady stream of crowd-surfers and stage-crashers. With only 11 shows scheduled for this tour, the Strokes seem more than well-prepared to face the thousands of expectant fans.
All in all, Strokes ticketholders will be more than pleased with the band's setlist, as--based on my experience at their Vegas show--they will play pretty much every crowd-pleaser in their catalog. Their universal appeal is evident just from the audience mix that night: kids who were in elementary school when the Strokes first came out, middle-agers, parents, hipsters, bros, nerds, club girls, rockers, and more. It was nuts to see the Strokes at this point in their career in a relatively small venue, and I do not envy whoever had to steam-clean that carpet.
But some tips for those of you seeing them with tens of thousands more people than I did: Wear shoes you can mosh in, don't wear anything easily torn/stained/generally ruined, keep an eye on electronics because they will get at least a little drink splatter, stay towards the back, wait for the weaker spectators to flee before pushing forward, and finally, if you're a huge fan, don't bring the girlfriend if she cries easily, because you'll miss half the show. Oh, and when someone warns you they're planning on rushing forward, move.
I Can't Win
Under Cover Of Darkness
The Modern Age
What Ever Happened?
New York City Cops
You're So Right
Is This It
Taken For A Fool
Hard To Explain
Life Is Simple in the Moonlight
Take It Or Leave It
You Only Live Once
First and last photos by David Becker/WireImage; All other photos by Tiffany Lee
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