Let us in the goddamn club, Mr. Boorish Doorman, or we will administer velvet-rope burn so severe you will consume your Thanksgiving dinner via IV. We are 200 or so miserable souls smashed into a tiny plot of Bowery sidewalk, caught in a torrential downpour, accidentally whacking each other in the face with our umbrellas as we crane our necks to get a better view of the barred front doors to Capitale, a special-event-only hot spot helpfully described by New York magazine as “a monstrosity of excess redolent of the go-go 1980’s and truly the height of metropolitan vulgarity.” Sounds fabulous. A Hennessy-hosted shindig will transpire on this hideously inclement Tuesday night, and we look forward to seeing the Strokes and Kanye West while rubbing shoulders (and, depending on the flow of free booze, possibly noses) with sexy-ass celebrities. Yet roughly 45 minutes has passed and we have not moved, crammed together and thoroughly drenched, like 400 chintzy cocktail parasols jammed into one glass of . . . of . . .
No alcoholic beverage springs to mind. Let us in, you fuckers.
What feels like four hours later, we’re standing at coat check, everyone’s outfit so thoroughly destroyed there ought to be a pants check as well. Capitale is a palatial former bank with a few high-art Communist propaganda posters mounted on the walls for, like, laffs. Tonight offers a visual panorama one excitable dude on his cell phone describes as “20 hot chicks.” But despite the red carpet outside and general air of fabulousness, the Dante’s-Inferno multi-tier configuration of V.I.P. rooms ensures that my maiden voyage as a stylish club-hopping boldface celebrity hound is an abject disaster. Excepting a quick glimpse of Jason Schwartzman and Kirsten Dunst, I evidently spend the evening looking in the wrong direction. A chirpy e-mail the next morning informs me that I partied with Carmen Electra, Ewan McGregor, Drew Barrymore, Lance Armstrong, Tracy Morgan, etc. I must’ve blacked that out. I hope I had a good time.
Our opening act is Goldfrapp, the English glam-disco outfit sired by Ms. Alison Goldfrapp, who looks like a mutant-supermodel version of Steve Martin’s love interest in The Jerk and offers the U.K.’s warped interpretation of a Madonna-scale pop star, all glittery, synth-drenched, vaguely pornographic strip-club anthems on planets NASA has not yet discovered. She’s good at it. Her band features a wildly bearded dude in a Jesus Christ Superstar robe playing . . . a keytar. Oh yes. Periodically the synth player straps on a keytar as well, resulting in the mythical and breathtaking Double Keytar configuration. Staggering. Herbie Hancock has no excuse for not inventing this. Four lithe backup dancers with multiple costume changes and an endless supply of disturbing masks prowl the stage, including equine seductress outfits complete with mirror-ball horseheads that must totally suck to wear while dancing.
The affair closes with “Strict Machine,” smutty and garish and great. Someone was probably spontaneously impregnated. “What you think of that Goldfrapp?” asks a nattily dressed, slightly vertiginous dude at random, precariously swinging around some sort of expensive- looking alcoholic beverage. “The horses kinda freaked me out,” he continues.
On to the Strokes. They are perfect for such an event—opulent rock ‘n’ roll vulgarity, bemused and probably self-loathing. Has a “fun”-sounding band ever looked like it was having less fun? “Let the good times roll!” chortles frontman Julian Casablancas, inching slowly but steadily into Axl Rose territory in a variety of respects, including lung capacity. Fab the drummer smokes nonchalantly, as though he’s leaning over a typewriter. (Might as well be sometimes.) Nikolai the bassist keeps his feet together and his expression icily neutral. And the guitars? The guitars ensure this band is still great, two guys, two parts, 10,000 omni-melodic hooks all hitting at once. Most probably you have a low opinion of this year’s First Impressions of Earth, should you remember it at all. This opinion is ill-advised. Perhaps you recall the screamy “Juicebox,” but you have certainly by now forgotten “Ize of the World.” Do not forget “Ize of the World.” The chorus goes on forever, and should.
This band’s weird cocktail of excellence, apathy, bemusement, and self- disgust gets more fascinating as the guys get less . . . awake. The crowd dances. The band glares, half-lidded. They close with “Take It or Leave It,” and then quickly leave it. Please don’t break up yet.
And finally, Kanye, a man predisposed to act enthusiastic in such an extravagantly sterile setting. I nearly injure myself rolling my eyes as the roadies tune up a harp, soon joined by four violins, two cellos, two backup singers, and a DJ. (From Canada!) He opens with a thus full-orchestrated “Diamonds Are Forever,” the Fantasia swirling strings completely drowning him out as he slyly references our host and sponsor for the evening—King Cobra, I believe. Kanye runs around until he’s visibly breathless, the polar opposite of the Strokes’ approach. (BackStroke?) “Get ‘Em High” gets ’em high. The all-female orchestra gets a brief showcase medley of “What You Know,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and uh, “Bittersweet Symphony.” (Kanye is evidently a big Cruel Intentions fan.)
Anyway, we hear all his best tunes except, sadly, “We Major.” Would’ve loved a Nas cameo, but instead there is a 10-minute walk-on from Pharrell. Alas. It’s probably unnecessary to point out that Pharrell can’t sing, and this is coming from a fan. (That first N.E.R.D. record’s direly underrated “Tape You” is the absolute zenith of its genre, that genre being “Songs to Coax Your Girlfriend Into a Lesbian Encounter for the Purpose of Filming It.”) He warbles through “Number 1” and “Anniversary.” They crack each other up for a while. The orchestra stares blankly, motionless. And then the grand finale, a torrent of ubiquitous hits as relentless as the rainstorm that greeted us, “Jesus Walks” into “Through the Wire” into “Touch the Sky.” And leading off: “Gold Digger.” “I know you’ve heard this a million times, but it’s OK,” Kanye counsels. “It works.” We don’t mind at all, of course, Kirsten and Carmen and Julian and Ewan and me.