This month, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes is moonlighting with his other band, The Voidz, in a residency of Monday night gigs at Boot & Saddle in South Philadelphia. Reminiscent of The Strokes’ famed run of weekly shows at The Khyber while they were recording Is This It, it’s a unique instance of a big rock star returning to a smaller room, this time with a band that indulges the weirdest, wildest whims of his songwriting. We attended opening night last Monday, and today we bring you a glimpse of what to expect if you have tickets to any of the remaining shows.
1. Devoted fans, so arrive early.
Last Monday around 6:30 p.m., while the bar still had the Pixies albums Doolittle and Surfer Rosa on repeat for the dinnertime crowd, fans were lining up in the tiny alcove before the door to the venue. The later it got, the more fans congregated. If the run of four performances selling out pretty much instantaneously didn’t already clue you in, there are some serious Casablancas aficionados in Philly, and they had Boot & Saddle crowded front to back come showtime.
2. Mind-bending openers, because Casablancas’ taste is anything but conventional.
For week one, we got Australia’s Promiseland, which is the confrontational yet party-loving project of Johann Rashid, who gets in the crowd’s face, borrows hair clips and allergy medicine, jumps offstage and dances in the center of the room to bombastic industrial beats while rocking the mic in an aggressive, but ultimately life-affirming speak-sing style. Imagine a middle ground between The Fall and Dan Deacon, and there you go. Tonight’s show is opened by Beau, the project of NYC songwriters Heather Golden and Emma Rose Jenney, and then Promiseland returns for the 18th and 25th.
3. So many instruments packed on the stage.
Inventory time: there’s Moog/Korg keyboard tower at stage right, the bright red amp with childlike illustrations on stage left, a good half dozen guitars floating around (the Flying V being an eye popping one), an inexplicable network of effects pedals and processor units lining the edge of the stage (one of which I’m pretty certain was not connected to anything) — suffice it to say, there is a lot of SOUND at this gig, and a lot of things with which to make it. I wonder how much The Voidz considered just leaving it all stored at the Boot to make load-in easier every week.
4. Not a ton of conversation.
Casablancas is reticent as ever — but if you ever saw The Strokes play live, you already knew that he wasn’t much for conversation. Pretty much he chatted with his bandmates, occasionally shared general pleasantries with the crowd, and otherwise kept his energy in reserve to concentrate on those howling, hammering vocals.
5. No Strokes songs and a leave ’em wanting more outlook.
If you were hoping for a nostalgia trip, I’m sorry to burst your balloon: Casablancas isn’t much into looking back here. Six of the set’s ten songs came from The Voidz’ recent LP Virtue; the others came from their 2014 debut Tyranny, plus a one-off single. There were no Strokes re-treads in the set, admirably so — though Virtue does remind me in a way of the most frenetic, unrestrained corners of the Strokes’ catalog, like “Ize of the World” from First Impressions of Earth or “You’re So Right” from Angles. The parts of their discography where pop accessibility was not a concern as much as making a cathartic artistic statement. To some in the crowd, it might not translate; to others, it will be a thing of immersive joy. I was nestled in a cluster of the aforementioned megafans watching last Monday’s show, so the energy where I stood was high and contagious. And even if it isn’t your thing, the energy with which Casablancas and his Voidz bandmates — Jeramy Gritter and Amir Yaghmai on keys and guitar, Jacob Bercovici on keys and bass, Alex Carapetis on drums, and Jeff Kite on yet more keys — tear up the tiny stage for 49 minutes and then quickly vacate, leaving the crowd wanting more (with three more gigs on the docket with which to supply it) is a thing of beauty.
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