Unveiling a new song, a new album and some of the old woozy indiscipline that hamstrung their ascent nearly 20 years ago, the Strokes extended the most leisurely paced comeback in rock, delighting their hometown fans at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center last night. The chiming, seesawing, faintly sad “Ode to the Mets” arrived after a lengthy band conference, several of which plagued the show (ever hear of a set list, guys?). The new song didn’t sound like a galvanizing rebound so much as a grandly emotional closer: a future final-dance prom request.
Maybe it will be placed near the end of the forthcoming 2020 release that frontman-songwriter Julian Casablancas teased as “coming out soon.” He offered no further details, adding, “The 2010s, whatever the fuck they’re called, we took them off, but now we’ve been unfrozen and we’re back.”
The band still sounds like a paradox: coiled guitar riffs and spring-loaded bass lines under a tinny, debauched drunk dial. When the band used its New Year’s Eve gig (a makeup show after June’s rained-out Governors Ball) as a delivery device for multiple tracks off 2001’s classic Is This It, the crowd exploded. There’s simply no improving on songs like “The Modern Age,” “Hard to Explain,” “Last Nite,” “Barely Legal” and the post-9/11 controversial “New York City Cops,” the latter receiving its own red-and-blue police light show during the choruses. Things came to a halt during the ball drop, the broadcast piped through on the monitors like a glitzy transmission from another planet where indie rock was just a faint memory (i.e., reality).
You can’t hear this music and not think of the Strokes as stalled under the weight of unfair expectations, even now. A genius first album is a curse. Straying into their later material like “You Only Live Once” and “Ize of the World,” Casablancas seemed to acknowledge the more muted crowd responses: “It’s complete musical enjoyment slash disappointment,” he cracked. “It’s okay—I’ve been there.”
Later in the show, the singer grew testier, rejecting requests for numbers off 2011’s misbegotten Angles and dousing a post-midnight band hug in irony: “Just like we rehearsed,” he snarked. People came to dance and, on balance, the show felt somewhat short. Almost as a surprise, the band launched into “Someday” and that was it, bassist Nikolai Fraiture depositing his still-feedbacking instrument on the stage floor and the band waving its goodbyes. “I ain't wasting no more time,” Casablancas sings at the end of that tune—a fine resolution for the new year. But don’t hold him to it.