Julian Casablancas/Tanlines/Telepathe @ Terminal 5, NYC 1/14/10

“Let’s hear it for New Yoooooork.” Early on in Julian’s set at Terminal 5 last night, the first of a pair at that Hell’s Kitchen hellhole, he began paying props to Alicia Keys’s performance on SNL. “Both songs,” he said, but it was “Empire State Of Mind” he kept teasing. It was the solo Stroke’s “first show in New York in a long fucking time,” and though it’s often difficult to pin down his mood through that ever-present onstage mumble — sober or not — clearly he was glad to be home. Julian’s career frustrations been highly publicized; this recent New York profile quotes him at length about how disappointed he was with RCA’s botched job promoting Phrazes For The Young, and how he hemorrhaged money on the elaborate stage sets towering over his run of L.A. shows, scrapping them entirely for these gigs. (“In the end, it wasn’t a positive experience for me at all … I went broke doing it.”) So last night we didn’t get Julian’s full vision for live Phrazes, though he “want[s] to do that in New York eventually. Badly.”

We also had to make sense of his material in the three-tiered boom-room that is Terminal 5, offering the acoustic experience of overhearing a music festival from inside a port-a-potty but with more high end. The trade off was worth it, though, spending a night with an icon of post-millennial cool who can still rock head-to-toe leather despite a signature move that amounts to hanging on a mic stand for dear life. He looked uncomfortable on the Tonight Show — though these days he isn’t the only one. Last night he was home.

The band at his back was tight, the material was almost exclusively from his solo record save a few covers. One being Kings Of Leon’s “Velvet Snow,” which is a bit like Eddie Vedder covering Creed but hey, a little something for the midtown bros (who were demonstrably psyched). More powerfully received was the “cover” of the Strokes’ “I’ll Try Anything Once.” The kids for their part jumped and danced and spat back most of Julian’s Phrazes word for word, but it was the response to that Strokes tune that put shit in focus: People want LP4. Which, by the sound of that New York article, finally has some real momentum. His voice sounded great, he looked the part, and don’t forget how savvy this dude is, right down to his choice for openers. As we know, his tastes are in line with ours, so inviting Tanlines and Telepathe to open was basically paying homage to his personal playlist. But also, while they’re dope acts capable of stellar live sets — the last time I saw Telepathe they conjured stormclouds at All Points West; the last time I saw Tanlines they whipped Market Hotel into a chilled out dance party — they’re also just duos, trading largely in synthetic beats. They made Julian look good on paper, and better in person. No two-piece set up behind a table of laptops is going to steal thunder from a sextet composed of monster-players looking like they were cherry-picked off Bedford Ave.

‘Round midnight, as the band shuffled offstage after a second encore, JC grabbed his drummer and instructed him to play a big backbeat, to which he added only his voice: “Let’s hear it for New York, these streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you.”

Thanks to Bao Nguyen for these photos, and to @GaryCanino for this clip (“Empire State Of Mind” starts a minute in):

1. “Ludlow St.”
2. “River Of Brakelights”
3. “11th Dimension”
4. “30 Minute Boyfriend”
5. “Out Of The Blue”
6. (New Song)
7. “Glass”
8. “Left & Right In The Dark”
9. “I’ll Try Anything Once”
10. “4 Chords of the Apocalypse”
11. “Tourist”