“Hey man, Merry Christmas,” Julian Casablancas called from Austin’s Auditorium Shores stage.
And it might as well have been a holiday for fans of the Strokes, which performed a free show Thursday night during the SXSW music festival, playing their classic hits plus songs from the band’s divisive new album, Angles.
The show drew an estimated 20,000 people, filling to capacity the typically tranquil lakeside venue. Outside, angry shut-outs got rowdy and attempted to pull down the Shores fence before police stepped in (there is nothing more meager than indie-rock fans attempting to riot).
Inside, fans were packed shoulder-shoulder on the grounds near the stage, but you didn’t see anybody complaining: Warm Austin evening, bright moon, the city’s skyline in the background and a free concert by a popular rock actâ€”what more could a music fan want? Even Casablancas grudgingly admitted the scene was inspired: “So romantic,” he muttered. “The buildings, the moon…”
And then there was the show itself. On the large video monitor, the bandmates looked sober and surly. But regardless of how they may or may not have been feeling, and regardless of the band’s well-documented internal divisions during the recording of Angles, the group came together for a strong performance.
Opening with “What Ever Happened?” The Strokes played favorites such as “Reptilia,” “Someday,” and “The Modern Age,” while peppering in new tracks like their catchy single “Under Cover of Darkness” and more momentum-stumbling experimental tunes such as “You’re So Right” (the new album, btw, is streaming for free on The Strokes’ Web site).
When the band ripped into their final song, “Last Nite,” a fireworks display erupted over the lake behind the stage. The rumors about the future of The Strokes have ranged from the band being crippled by irreconcilable differences in the studio to planning to record a second album this year. But what ever happens The Strokes in the future, this was one night where they reminded fans that there’s something here that’s worth fighting to keep alive.