There is a tragic halfway point between All Saints and Radiohead, and most of Britain’s current guitar bands keep at least one toe on such squishy, lukewarm ground: Travis, Gomez, Stereophonics, Coldplay. And as we well know, being average is a far greater crime in rock than sucking.
So when a band like the Strokes (or At the Drive-In, or . . . ) comes screeching over from the States, England seems startled and pleased that music can still explode with howling energy. Never mind that the Who invented it; long ago hard rock traded in its U.K. passport for rehearsal space in America. As for the Strokes, well, Andy Warhol is smiling down voyeuristically from his cloud, his wings flapping with mild approval at this newest incarnation of New York cool. We’re talking scruffy, stinky cool like Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, or the dim back room at Max’s Kansas City. Surely this very young band realizes how cleanly they complete the 30-year style cycle. Frontman Julian Casablancas is so fucking black-fingernailed Lou Reed, the band’s riffs so Television, that the young folks who don’t know any better are getting whole chapters of Please Kill Me all over again.
Still, the band is fun as hell. While we wait for an autumn album release, we have a handful of EPs, with the theatrical and Sudafed-pumped “The Modern Age” (indeed) kicking things off, and lately “New York City Cops” thrilling the MP3 kids who feed off this tough, skinny hide. And England, ablaze and desolate with foot-and-mouth, has been holding its breath for the Strokes’ visit, changing sheets and stocking up on Brooklyn Lager to make them feel comfy and welcome (“stay forever!”). So while NME and Q take care of the hype, the Strokes gamely do the rest.
Like, when in the midst of this U.K. tour, drummer Fabrizio Moretti fractured his hand falling off a bus, thus canceling a couple of extremely sold-out dates. Rock and roll. I mean, that’s a Patti Smith antic if there ever was one, right? The band flew in a replacement, and they finally took the stage at the suburban Colchester Arts Center looking a little worried. But they plowed through the set, stoically and speedily ignoring the few bumps and lulls. Perhaps we all thought it would be relentless “GO GO GO!” from the first note, but delivering the Motherland from mediocrity is a big responsibility for a group that, only months ago, was sharpening its sound for small crowds in East Village bars.
If this band lasts long enough, they can transcend comparisons and find their own legs. And sure enough, over the course of the Colchester set, a hint of pure Strokes-ness did rear its sweaty head. Reminded me of Richard Hell, in fact.