Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Strokes played Irving Plaza



Live music is back in New York City! As part of a rally supporting Maya Wiley for the next Mayor of NYC, the city's very own The Strokes played the first full-capacity, vaccine-required concert to happen in the five boroughs since March 2020.

At one point in the pandemic, I told myself I wanted to be at a band's first comeback concert post-COVID. I assumed it would be a local band and assumed it would be at a small club, but I didn't expect it to really turn out the way it did. On Saturday night, I saw The Strokes play their first show since March 2020 and it was a small hometown gathering at Manhattan's Irving Plaza. Not only was it The Strokes playing for the first time in fifteen months, but it was also to endorse Maya Wiley for Mayor, included an opening set from John Mulaney, and ended with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez introducing the band as they came on stage. Even in my wildest dreams, I never imagined life would return to normal in such epic fashion.

Mulaney's set was short and sweet. He got the crowd hyped, was open, honest, and incredibly vulnerable. He seemed relaxed and back on top of his game, made everyone laugh, and brought the energy of the evening to even greater heights. Everyone in the crowd was equally thrilled to see him back onstage. Comedy wasn't part of my expectation for the evening, but he delivered a quick, yet powerful set that really set the tone for the night ahead.

After a rousing call to arms from the most popular politician in the city, AOC  introduced the band to feverish applause and they immediately grabbed the attention of the crowd and put on their best hometown performance in over a decade (I should know, I've seen them all). The last time I saw the Strokes was December 31, 2019. They played an epic New Year's Eve concert at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and, at the time, it seemed like they were ready to get back in the groove and promote their soon-to-be new album. Obviously, that momentum was short-lived and only a few months later, the world came to a sudden pause. In the pandemic, however, the band stayed rather busy (especially by their standards). They did release a new album, The New Abnormal, played SNL (the episode was hosted by none other than John Mulaney), and they won their first Grammy. Still, when they announced the show only a few days prior to taking the stage, they upped the anti not just for themselves, but for the city as well. For the first time in over a year, a full-capacity, mask-free show for a fully vaccinated audience took place and it was instantly iconic. Rushing to the stage and diving into "Juicebox" full-throttle, the band delivered the hits and shied away from awkwardness that has plagued their sets in the past. They seemed fully present and actually excited to be together onstage playing for a legion of devoted fans (notably, Nick Valensi announced only hours beforehand that he would not be able to join his bandmates onstage, but gave his full support to the show). The second song of the night was "Someday" and from that moment forward, it was non-stop bliss. The riffs felt monumental and the guitar solo was life affirming to the point where my eyes welled-up with excitement as I was in total disbelief that this was truly happening. After an incredibly long and painful year, the city's beloved band was back and ready to embrace their past. "I ain't wastin' no more time" Julien bellowed and the crowd screamed along. It was one for the ages and only just the beginning. "I don't wanna be corny and am trying to play it cool, but it's so good to be here. Thank you!" he exclaimed later on in the evening and it was true. The epitome of what it meant to be cool in NYC in the early 2000s was the Strokes and their return proved that they're still more than capable of carrying the torch as we start to re-embrace the world. There were a few tracks from their latest record sprinkled in the set and they exceeded all expectations. "The Adults are Talking" was pumped up an extra degree and "Bad Decisions" felt almost ironic, but nonetheless thrilling, to hear and as much as other tracks from First Impressions of Earth like "Ize of the World" and "You Only Live Once" felt even more transformative this go around than they ever have before, it was the songs from the first two albums that really delivered the pandemonium. "The Modern Age" into "12:51" was an unexpected and joyous surprise that helped keep the pace of the night just in time for them to launch into the unexpected "Is This It?" - a track that is always a surprising delight when it finds its way onto a set list. In usual fashion, they ended the main set with the charging "Take It or Leave It" before Wiley and AOC came back to the stage for more rallying cries to amp up the people. Chants of "one more song" turned into "ten more songs" and it was clear that the band felt honored and excited by the demands. "We definitely have more than one more" Casablancas said into the mic before hitting the crowd with "Automatic Stop", another excellent surprise to kick-off the encore and once again reset the tone for the night before the life altering rendition of "Last Nite" took command of the building. As soon as the guitar riff hit, it was utter chaos and the most euphoric moment of perhaps any concert I've ever attended. It was pure ecstasy and something I'll never forget. Strangers embraced and gazed into each other's faces with extreme joy. It was a few minutes of all out, pure happiness and one of the best moments of my life. Julian hyped up Albert's solo to new levels of excitement and as soon as he hit the first note, the entire audience reached new peaks of nirvana. They closed the night with a fired-up "Reptilia" which also felt larger than life and was another moment of absolute serenity. After an incredibly trying year that felt more than impossible to survive, this was everything I could've hoped for and more. It's been a while since The Stokes lived up to the vibe of the coolest band on the planet, but even if it was just for the night, they certainly proved they are it.

Set list:

01 "Juicebox"
02 "Someday"
03 "The Adults are Talking"
04 "One Way Trigger" (featuring Dev Hynes)
05 "You Only Live Once"
06 "Hard to Explain"
07 "Ize of the World"
08 "The Modern Age"
09 "12:51"
10 "Is This It?"
11 "Bad Decisions"
12 "Take It or Leave It"
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13 "Automatic Stop"
14 "Last Nite"
15 "Ode to the Mets"
16 "Reptilia"

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