is either the last relic of rock-stardom as glamorized in grunge by New York's high profile black and white filth, or a generational one off. Obviously he isn't the only leather jacket wearing frontman to drunkenly stage stagger through his prolific early days. He is, however, the only one to crawl out of the early 2000s with a devoted mass of screaming Beiber-like lady fans, and his badge of New York authenticity in tact. His headlining show with backing band The Voidz at Hammerstein Ballroom this week was an excellent example of the unique and wonderful state of Casablancas' career.
the solo project backed by The Voidz, for which Casablancas is currently on tour in support of, is a far cry from the alternative pop-rock records for which The Strokes became monstrously popular. His new record is unabashedly his own exploration into afro-punk and heavy metal. The result is a sound so dense and driven that it was destined, though not determined, though not particularly concerned, to alienate fans of 2003's Is This It
. It's just different. Julian Casablancas is just different. For starters, he's sober. He's also a married father, and let's just say it: a grown ass man. What sets him apart from the Mick Jaggers of his company of aging rock n roll sex symbols? He's not the least bit interested in clinging to the status, or the musical direction of his youth. Neither is he ashamed of it. He's just beyond it, in basically every way (the last remaining relics being studded leather jackets and ray ban wayfarers).
He seems to understand, and even appreciate the devotion of his screaming Strokes fans, and has used it to everyone's—fans, fellow performers, and his own—advantage. His touring companions, Blood Orange
(aka British artist/producer Devonté Hynes) and Shabazz Palaces
, couldn't be more different in sonic flavor than the Voidz. Both acts occupy different realms of hip-hop. Blood Orange sings, spins, and play guitar with warm love-centric soul synth. He used to produce for ex-girlfriend Solange Knowles
Shabazz Palaces are a slightly different breed of spin doctor. The two drift away from the gentle lounge hip hop of Hynes, and dart with force into a much more amped up theatrical vibe. They're the Daft Punk
of an equally bizarro chic alternate universe. Their performance, slated between Blood Orange and Julian, was played for the wrong crowd. While Hynes's grooves are mellow enough for any music fan to vibrate with, the boys of Shabazz played a set that just blew right over the packed out heads of Casablancas' fans.
To be honest, most of the Voidz performance had the same effect. The sea of fans really only moved for it when Casablancas obliged them with a Strokes cover, which he peppered into his set with clever snarky teasers like "This is Bush's 'I Don't Want To Come Down From This Cloud," before diving into a rousing rendition of The Strokes' "Ize Of The World". Dev Hynes joined him on stage for the sick sucking love song "You Only Live Once". The brilliance of this set up is clear. Casablancas knows he can count his screaming fans to fill concert halls for his projects no matter what. There was no shortage of desperate cries of female fan devotion—Julian laughed, responding periodically with "I love you too demon child," an affectionate quip I thought paid perfect homage to the value of his fans obsessive allegiance, and the absolute oddity of hysteria. He knows that New York will show up for a Strokes concert, and he's used the opportunity to expose his ever loving fans to artists and art that he can really get behind.
Hynes and Casablancas have developed quite a friendship, and Casablancas joked that the two had brunch together earlier in the day (see the Julian
hates brunch drama to unpack that punchline). All in all I would say the strange set list was a success, throughout the night I heard teary white girls and alternative (fill in the blank, there are countless sub-sub-alt cultures in NYC) dudes whispering to each other, 'Who is this guy?' or 'I'd actually listen to that,' about both opening acts. And while this part goes without saying, I've never seen Casablancas perform live before, so: HIS VOICE IS EVERYTHING. Listening to Casablancas sing live is a once in a lifetime experience, it will be the sort of thing we boast about to each other once time takes us all and turns him into Lou Reed, and the rest of us into biography buying reminiscers.