After recent shows in Pensacola and New Orleans, Julian Casablancas hit SXSW with his new backing band the Voidz last night for a headlining set at the Chevrolet Courtyard. Placed at the end of what essentially felt like an alleyway (though you might be able to attribute that to just how many people had packed in to see Casablancas) the band crowded together and ripped through an eight-song set full of new material, two songs from Casablancas’ first solo outing Phrazes For The Young, and one Strokes song (“Ize Of The World”).
If you saw Casablancas during his first solo tour, then you already know the deal: It’s exceedingly weird to see him onstage with a bunch of hired guns backing him up, even if the newly added billing suggests he’s trying to create more of a “me & my band” vibe this time around. (The Voidz lineup is different than the group he toured with for Phrazes.) Even if there was a veneer of imitation and rich kid play-acting to it, the Strokes were one of the last great “band as gang of friends that eventually spontaneously combusts,” a band that genuinely looked and acted the part of real rock stars together. Given, it’s getting to the point that if the Strokes are still together in any fashion, you get the sense they’re just going through the motions to get back to their other things anyway. Which is fine; Casablancas’ solo work’s been pretty great so far. It’ll just take some adjustment to get used to seeing Casablancas playing “Ize Of The World” or “Reptilia” (which we didn’t hear last night, but they played at one of the previous shows) with a mulleted and mustachioed guitarist rather than Albert Hammond, Jr. and Nick Valensi next to him.
There were all sorts of signs that would gesture to the idea of Casablancas going full synth-pop with his sophomore outing. The less rock-oriented material from the Strokes’ 2013 release Comedown Machine — like “Tap Out” or “One Way Trigger” — seemed to be coming solely from Julian and representative of where his head was at. He collaborated with Daft Punk for a song called “Instant Crush” that he’s now incorporated into his solo sets. And that surprisingly long album trailer was just as committed to ’80s visual detritus and old video game sounds as anything Casablancas has been involved in. The other element of that trailer is more telling, though: you’ll hear a lot of guitars. What was most striking about the five new songs Casablancas played last night — and this comes in the form of a general vibe, since my placement in relation to the stage made discerning each song’s melody difficult — was that they essentially sounded like a bunch of songs he could’ve put on the last Strokes record, and the old fans would’ve been psyched to hear them sounding like themselves again. It still has that latter day Strokes or Phrazes mode of grunged-up or weirdly metal-inflected new wave going on, but the songs were propulsive and ferocious all around, far from the airiness of “’80s Comedown Machine.”
There was a lingering feeling, afterwards, that something had changed in Casablancas’ disposition since the time of Phrazes. Back then, I suppose you could say he was trying to prove something, that he could be an artist without the Strokes and make music that wouldn’t immediately sound like them. Even without enough songs to fill up a whole set, he steadfastly refused to play Strokes songs on that first tour. Now, he’s adopted a band name, mixed in music from all different eras and corners of his career, and embraced the vicious guitar snarl that made his songs famous back in the early ’00s. We’ll see if that holds true when we actually hear the studio recordings of this material, but for now I walked away feeling like Casablancas’ comfort with mixing it all together signaled that he’d moved further along from the Strokes than ever before.
Watch videos from the entire set below…
“Ize Of The World”
“The Phantom of Liberty (Arabic Jam)”
“River Of Brakelights”
“Ize Of The World”
“The Phantom Of Liberty (Arabic Jam)”
“River Of Brakelights”
[Photos by Nina Corcoran/Stereogum.]