Rogers Arena, Vancouver BC, March 5
Despite falling just short of a sell-out, the Strokes triumphed in their first Vancouver show in over a decade at Rogers Arena on Thursday night. Tourmates Alvvays and Promiseland, however, faced greater challenges than just empty seats, which are expected for openers.
Aside from being signed to Strokes singer Julian Casablancas’s Cult Records, Johann Rashid, aka Promiseland, was a perplexing choice of opener. The Australian-born NYC artist is known for wild, physical live shows, but he limited his theatrics last night to running laps onstage and peeling off his shirt before beating his ribs and chest with his black-gloved fists.
Although he didn’t hang upside down from the rigging, plank atop amps, smash gear or break any bones, “The Future Prince of Anarchy,” as Casablancas dubs him, didn’t relent on his beats, which morphed between light tropical house, techno-industrial and splattering dark ’80s out of a B-horror movie. Using multiple mics, he modified his voice into hellish yelps and ogre-ish bellows. The audience didn’t know what to make of him, so they mostly stood still and silent. But he won their applause with his last song, the full-on raver, “Take Down the House.”
Alvvays should have been the perfect palette cleanser for the acquired taste that was Promiseland, but the twee Maritime rockers were bogged down by unbalanced sound mixing. Molly Rankin’s voice towered above the rest of the band but often faltered, causing her to drop her more sustained notes prematurely. The synth that’s such a highlight on songs like “Plimsoll Punks” were drowned out, as were the band’s harmonies. When Alvvays pulled themselves above the undertow of bad mixing, though, they hit the mark, especially on slower songs like “Archie, Marry Me,” “Dreams Tonite,” “Not My Baby” and “Party Police.”
Finally, in a moment that almost felt surreal given how rarely they play, the Strokes hit the stage. Like statues fused to their bases, they rarely left their spots. Nor did they talk much; mostly, Casablancas, drummer Fabrizio Moretti, and Nikolai Fraiture lethargically muttered to each other, partially off mic.
But the Strokes’ static demeanour totally belied the vitality and volume of their live performance. Almost every song in their hour-long set began and ended with a snap, like flicking on and off a blinding light switch. Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. traded guitar licks and solos all night, each stepping forward during his turn like a batter at the plate. Casablancas mostly perched in his signature stance, with one foot propped on top of a monitor and his head craned towards his shoulder.
The Strokes opened with the shimmering “Bad Decisions,” the second single from their upcoming sixth album, The New Abnormal, out April 10. Besides that, they rarely veered from their 2001 breakthrough, Is This It, and their 2003 followup, Room on Fire. Some notable exceptions included “Ize of the World” and another new song, “The Adults Are Talking.”
Thick tremolos thwapped like chopper blades on “Automatic Stop”; guitars ticked away on “The End Has No End”; the riff of “Hard to Explain” came in steady blasts; and “Take It or Leave It” mounted to a smoking barrel climax. The Strokes were surprisingly loud; fans could only really be heard singing along to “You Only Live Once” and “Reptilia,” which spoke to how beloved those songs were.
Along with those favourites, the Strokes knocked out pretty much every song fans could have wanted to hear, including “Someday,” “12:51,” “What Ever Happened,” and the encore string of “Soma,” “Juicebox,” and finally, the single that started it all for the Strokes and ignited an explosion of indie rock at the beginning of the new millennium, “Last Nite.”
With an album on the horizon — the Strokes’ first since 2013’s Comedown Machine — it was surprising that they didn’t play more new material, like “At the Door” and “Ode to the Mets.” But nostalgia hits were all fans needed, and considering the band’s lengthy absence, that’s not hard to explain.