Of all the hundreds of shows going on this day at SXSW, The Strokes were arguably the most hotly anticipated (it was a free show in a huge outdoor park no less). It was a “be there early or throw away your chances” concert event. Lines just to get in were considerably lengthy even at 5:30pm when the Strokes weren’t even anticipated to hit the stage until around 8:00pm. Afterward it was reported that as early as an hour prior people were being turned away because the park was at capacity. But it gets crazier music lovers: when the band started playing all of the frustrated people that were turned away rushed the fence and broke it down, charging into the park. Some less riotous people camped out on the lawn of the convention center across the street, just to listen to the music.
Back in the park, the air buzzed with eagerness and the crowd was surprisingly diverse: everyone from older mothers and father toting children, faux-hawked kids that couldn’t have been older than 15 – and of course your requisite amount of hipsters – were jam-packed into the park. Those that were there for the “good ole Rock ‘n’ Roll” aspect didn’t seem too impressed with opener Twin Shadow, but they had a great beat. Most numbers were propelled by a driving 80s dance-rock groove that had at least a few others in my vicinity and me bobbing our heads.
For what seemed like an eternity after Twin Shadow, The Strokes finally hit the stage, ripping through a great rendition of “What Ever Happened?” that had the whole audience jumping around ecstatically. Singing along to songs like that and “You Only Live Once” is surprising since they were never big singles. Somewhere in their absence from the day-to-day music scene, apparently people accepted their whole body of work as cannon. It’s a rare and fantastic thing—it definitely makes for a fun show when people dance like mad and sing along to every song. Even the new single “Under Cover of Darkness” got a hearty cheer in its opening notes and had people singing along.
As expected, new material made its debut at this concert, but it was placed very strategically within the set, deciding to play a hit song, then a new one, such as “You’re So Right” or “Gratisfaction.” Fortunately each of these songs, while definitely having a distinct sound from the songs of old, fit comfortably alongside classics like “Reptilia” and “Someday.” It was especially a relief to hear the new songs gel so well considering the buzz on the Internet about the album being “very 80s” and “not Strokes-like at all.” So rest assured that whatever your opinion is of the sound of the new album, the songs translate well live and are a blast to hear.
The band seemed to be in great spirits, Julian making jokes throughout the night, even telling Fab how romantic the Austin skyline was and to not worry, “it’s just you and me.” With a cry of “let’s give it to them,” from Julian the band launched into their final song of the evening, “Last Nite” and the crowd erupted. As if to match the enthusiasm of the crowd and to celebrate the full-on return of one of the most beloved bands of the 00s, fireworks erupted over Town Lake behind the stage making for an incredible end to a positively exuberant and fun-filled evening with The Strokes.
Written by Jarad Matula