“If you have booze,” Julian Casablancas slurs in front of an audience of thousands, cradling a plastic giraffe donated by the Harvard Lampoon, “we’ll be there…
That’s our general rule.” Despite their self-reported inebriation, the Strokes delivered uptempo, energetic renditions from their 2001 album, Is This It, during last Wednesday’s sold-out show at the FleetBoston Pavilion. They also premiered several unreleased songs as promising as their debut hits. At this point in time, few critics would disagree that the Strokes are adept songwriters and musicians—however, the band’s appeal transcends their talent.
Why are the Strokes so captivating? “They’re a boy band for those who don’t like boy bands,” one female sophomore from Harvard tells me at the show. “They’re really cute,” adds her friend. And, to a degree they’re correct. Their emo/New Wave fashion sense and their greasy unkempt locks are analogous, I suppose, to those horrible acid-washed ensembles donned by Timberlake et al or the mop-tops of the Beatles. Still, the demographics of Wednesday’s audience—fans ranging from aggravating teeny-boppers to aspiring yuppie hipsters to visor-sporting frat boys—suggest that the Strokes’ widespread appreciation extends beyond their boyish good looks.
Despite their wild transatlantic popularity, the Strokes continue to uphold their curious anti-image: An unwashed Casablancas rambles incoherently onstage (“This is my buddy,” he said with his arm around the aforementioned giraffe. “I do whatever he tells me.”), the band kibbitzes around beer and cigarettes in their videos. But not only are they regular guys from a spectator’s distance, the Strokes’ appearance at the Lampoon last Wednesday proved them to be surprisingly accessible: The band members took time to chat and pose for photos with onlookers in addition to their go-karting stunts in the streets of Cambridge. Guitarist Nick Valensi snapped at fans with his camera while drummer Fabrizzio Moretti lit a cigarette for a fan. “I applied to come to Harvard and they didn’t accept me,” admitted Moretti freely to a Crimson reporter.
And here lies the true appeal of the Strokes: Given a twist of fate, a college rejection, or a lucky break, they could be you, or you could be them. Red-carpet celebrity as austere diversion is passé—Blind Date, American Idol or Becoming have brought fame beyond the realm of fantasy to remote possibility for millions. While Casablancas and company are certainly too talented to be compared to the likes of Justin Guarini, their earthly manner suggests that there is a dangerous arbitrariness to who stands in front of a screaming arena, and who is destined for the annals of obscurity. The Strokes seem to be content with either, as long as there’s booze.