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The Strokes strike a chord in Chicago

Observer Scene | Monday, April 26, 2004

Some bands take years to work their way out of obscurity into the limelight of popular culture.Not so for The Strokes. These five New York City kids have earned their fame quickly. Since their first release in 1999 The Strokes have been hailed as one of the best new groups to hit rock and roll. The group became popular throughout the United States, Europe and other parts of the world as one of the front-runners of the garage rock genre, and so far that is where they have stayed.Their first album, “Is This It?” earned the band recognition from Spin Magazine as Band of the Year for 2002. Their second album, “Room on Fire,” had a darker sound and more complicated guitar mixing, but it continued the sound that originally made the group famous, and was equally well received by fans. Friday night the group came to the Aragon Ballroom for the Chicago stop of their spring tour. The Strokes have been cultivating an international as well as national fan base with their hectic touring schedule. Traveling throughout the United States since finishing the European leg of their tour in January, The Strokes have also recently been in Australia and made a brief foray in Mexico in early March.The Strokes are only one of an endless series of famous and talented groups to play this well-known Chicago venue. The Aragon has hosted artists from Pennywise to Ani DiFranco to No Doubt over the past few years. The Spanish palace courtyard design and larger capacity of the Aragon makes it a more desirable venue than the nearby Riviera Theater for many artists. Generally shows at the Ballroom are well performed and well received. Friday night’s performance by The Strokes was both of these, and for the most part was a pleaser for the enthusiastic crowd. The group is becoming increasingly known for the well-coordinated light displays that give extra punch and energy to their shows. The lighting at the Aragon was well rehearsed and sharp, but the rest of the technical support didn’t do the group justice. The Strokes play with a clean sound and a fast, punctuated rhythm, which, in order to be heard correctly live, depends on good technical support to make the performance come together. Occasional interference on the mikes and a generally fuzzy sound quality during the concert was more detrimental to The Strokes than it would have been to many of the artists who have played in the Aragon’s history. The Ravonettes opened for the group with a set from their full-length debut album, “Chain Gang of Love.” The Danish garage rock group got their start when their inaugural EP was named Best Rock Album of the Year at the Danish music awards, and was picked up Rolling Stone and Q Magazine as part of the wave of new garage rockers. The band was an appropriate choice to open for a group that is an integral part of a rock movement that is as much European as American.The Ravonettes have fairly sophisticated studio work, but if their live performance was as well coordinated, the sound quality at the theater made it impossible to tell. Over the mikes the music sounded more like fuzzy Gothic rock than the cleaner and more basic sound for which the group is known. The Strokes fared better than the opening act. Their numbers came together well in one of the less frenzied but still energetic performances the Aragon Ballroom has seen. Where some groups are known for a raucous stage presence, The Strokes will never be seen jumping around the stage or smashing guitars. The musicians might be soft-core substance abusers, but they are never very emotional, lending them an image of somewhat apathetic urban sophistication. Drummer Fabrizio Moretti sucked on a beer between sets and lead singer Julian Casablancas sang through an endless string of cigarettes.Guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. and bassist Nicolai Fraiture collaborated well through the performance, although they were noticeably for a small section of the performance.Some lead singers seem addicted to the stage and to crowd reaction, but beyond the obligatory thanks to the crowd and the theater, Casablancas didn’t make much of an attempt to work the crowd. The Strokes are one of the few groups who are sincere when they promise three more numbers – the group rarely if ever returns for encores. If the fans enjoy the music the band will welcome them, but they don’t try to play the game of pandering to anyone who came to the show for the kicks or the image.The shows started out somewhat slow, but picked up with their performance of “Whatever Happened” off their second album, “Room On Fire.” Hits like “Last Nite” and “12:51″ were well received as always.”New York City Cops,” included in the group’s European release of their first CD, was respectfully removed from the United States version before its release after September 11. The song remains one of their biggest concert crowd-pleasers, and Friday night was no exception.The highlight of the show, besides the group’s usual hits, was a flawless performance of “Reptilia.” The number, one of their darkest and most energetic, has become one of the traditional closing songs for their shows. Although The Strokes play off a detached image, some of their best performances are of songs like “Reptilia” and “Take It or Leave It” that exhibit more emotion.It’s hard to say where any band that makes it big for a while will end up. Pushing through the rock music world takes talent and passion, and it’s too early to tell if The Strokes will make the cut in the long run. The group is still young both in age and in stage presence. But for the moment The Strokes are putting in the touring time and effort to continue to make a name for themselves, and are worth keeping an eye on.

Contact Maria Smith at msmith4@nd.edu