(A brief introduction: Hi, I'm Noah. You probably don't remember me from such productions as "32feet gets impressively drunk on SPIN's dime" and "Good god, that's the Futurehead's music," but I was there. Now I'm writing here. We're taking this thing bicoastal. From San Francisco, with love.)
The Messiah -- happy, sober, and dressed entirely in black -- is bathed in white light at the front of The Regency Ballroom stage. Julian Casablancas traded his four horsemen for an impressively well intentioned if not always perfectly executed solo album and six new bandmates. Two guitarists, two keyboardists, and two percussionists are arranged in a semi-circle behind the once and future(?) lead singer of the Strokes, symmetrical through the Y-axis. They will barely move throughout the entire set, stuck inside their individual Casblancas-created Calling Bubbles.
The Chosen One, however, wanders freely around the stage. One earns this privilege after one's first band saves rock and roll. To his credit, "Phrazes For The Young" simultaneously builds upon and moves away from the music of the group that wrote the No. 1 album of our dying decade, a fact that's clear in concert. The choice to open the set with "River of Brakelights" -- whose backbone is the lyrics "getting the hang of it/timing is everything" -- hints perhaps at the novelty the singer experiences when he's alone as the centerpiece, but this thought fades minutes later when the chorus of "Left & Right In the Dark" explodes, driven by, dare I say, peppy keyboards. Casblancas can sing about stumbling in the dark, but he knows exactly where he's going. We, of course, will follow.
Julian, it seems, is enjoying himself on stage, becoming less posture and more human with each song. He increasingly interacts with both the crowd and his bandmates. Pretense washes away in a sea of well-orchestrated lights. During the set's one cover -- The Strokes' "I'll Try Anything Once," chosen, I have to assume, because a fan in the front row held up a homemade cardboard sign with the song title written on it -- he forgets the line "everybody was well dressed." (Accidental symbolism of mental departure from previous band known as time went on more for their clothes than their music=high.) Later, Casablancas announces that the group on stage at The Regency will play a b-side: "We'll probably ruin it, but shit, we're gonna have fun no matter what." By the end of the song, he's proven prophetic on both counts. The song is a wonderful disaster, ending with a wall of noise created by seven musicians playing their instruments, hard.
Being the Music Messiah is lucrative -- how else can you explain half a dozen band members in addition to a three-piece horn section that supports two songs? -- but I suspect it's not that much fun. The Strokes imploded under the pressure, splintering and going their separate ways. The band's lead singer doesn't want to save us again and, quite frankly, we don't need him to. But damn, it's nice when he walks among us.