Live Review

Julian Casablancas, First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN

The passionate crowd clearly make Casablancas feel at ease.

Julian Casablancas

certainly knows how to keep his fans waiting. It’s been four years since the last Strokes record, after all, and the crowd gathering for his highly anticipated solo show at Minneapolis’ venerable First Avenue nightclub had to wait nearly an hour after opening band Funeral Party finished for Julian to finally take the stage. And, considering Casablancas set would clock in at just under an hour, it was possible to feel cheated a bit by the show if it weren’t so much fun. Julian’s solo material is a bit more convivial than his recent output with the Strokes, and certainly sounds far less self-important, and that carefree temperament carried over to his live show as well, finding Casablancas and his five-piece band playing it loose and easy, injecting his songs with a natural energy that enlivened the receptive audience.

Starting with a high-energy new song that is unnamed at this point got the show off to an explosive if a bit unfamiliar start, but the warm reception that greeted ‘Ludlow St.’ clearly resonated with Casablancas, who responded in kind to the enthusiastic crowd: ‘Long time no see, Minneapolis. I like what’s going on in here tonight.’ And the crowd clearly liked what was going on onstage, as well, with the slow-building intensity of ‘River Of Brakelights’ really igniting the set. The band quickly built on that momentum by doing a daring but ultimately electrifying cover of the Strokes ‘Hard To Explain’ that Julian simply owned. His voice was potent and strong all evening, and it was great to hear him take on a classic from his past; but it also made me anxious for new material from the esteemed New York quintet, which hopefully we’ll be hearing from soon.

The keyboard-based funk of ‘Glass’ slowed things down a bit, but again found Julian in fine voice, before ‘11th Dimension’ picked the pace back up again immediately. With it’s disco-laden hook and infectious chorus, it was my favorite song of the set, really getting the crowd moving along with its irresistible beat. The set was oddly paced throughout, with things again slowing down as Julian tackled the subdued Strokes b-side ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’ with just his bandmate Jefferson accompanying him on keyboards. But the lull didn’t really last long, as the band tore through a dynamic version of ‘Left & Right In The Dark,’ with Julian’s vocals soaring effortlessly in the massive chorus. It was another clear highlight of the brief but highly entertaining set. Casablancas then announced that ‘this is the time of the night when we do an inappropriate song’ before the band launched into a hilariously catchy and fun version of the Saturday Night Live track ‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’ that closed out the main set on an amusing high.

After making the crowd wait again, the band sauntered back on stage, opening the encore with the propulsive ‘Out Of The Blue,’ after which Julian thanked the crowd, claiming ‘Minneapolis, you’re my new favorite city.’ Sure it was a bit of bullshit, but the passionate crowd clearly made Casablancas feel at ease, and there was an obvious connection between the performer and his audience that went a long way towards making this an enjoyable performance. The band finished their set with the Sam Cooke-ish croon of ‘4 Chords Of The Apocalypse’ that ended the night strongly. Julian is clearly not reinventing the wheel with his new material (he’s not doing that with the Strokes either), but he’s such a captivating presence both on stage and behind the microphone that it’s impossible to look away, and it simply remains a pleasure to hear him sing. And Casablancas’ heart was clearly in it throughout his lively set at First Avenue, which made for an engaging and immensely entertaining evening. I ran into Julian and his close friend Sean Tillmann (Har Mar Superstar) after the show while they were on their way to the adjoining 7th Street Entry to catch Surfer Blood’s set, and Julian was clearly pleased with how the night played out and thankful for the warm reception he received from the adoring Minneapolis crowd. Let’s hope he doesn’t keep us waiting too long before we can see him live again.

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