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Strokes, Kings of Leon unite for unique concert tour
Last week, the Kings of Leon, four country rockers from Tennessee, and the Strokes, a scruffy-haired quintet from New York City, came together for a unique concert at the Paul E. Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass.
Not since 1865 have north and south united in such a monumental way. This, of course, is an overstatement or, at least a statement more aptly bestowed on the preceding stop on the Strokes tour at Madison Square Garden, which, sadly, was missed by this author. And though Paul Tsongas Arena in Lowell was hardly one of the venues that sold out along the way, it was an important stop on this tour in that it brought to New England a look of just what the next dominating genre of music could very well look like.
Enter Kings of Leon. Who are they? A handful of concertgoers intended to find out. The brothers and cousin Followill, raised on the road between Memphis and Oklahoma City, are a quartet of some of the most talented musicians to be seen in the new wave of rock music that is slowly creeping its way back into mainstream American culture.
Since the beginning of 2003, they have been traveling the world, beating the drum for their debut album “Youth and Young Manhood.” Pun very much intended. Now, here they are belting out songs that everybody should know not because they are popular, but just because they are awesome.
They opened with “Red Morning Light.” Only a few know the song. It is just an opening band. Bring on the Strokes. Those who do know this song and the one after and the one after that, can be rest assured in knowing that they have found something incredible. They have staked their claim on Kings of Leon because one look at these guys and you know they are going to make it. One listen and you’re hooked. They do not even give their listeners the privilege of getting used to their music. You love it immediately. Kings of Leon for president.
They play most of their one and only album. All told, it is nine songs of whisky-inspired “country punk garage rock.” What was once a depressingly vapid crowd at Tsongas Arena is now officially pumped. A couple hundred more record sales are screaming, wanting more as they close out their set with “Trani.”
As the Strokes take the stage, band member Albert Hammond Jr.’s massive hair is almost comically silhouetted against the background of the stage as he brings his guitar to ready position. Drew Barrymore’s new flame, drummer Fabrizio Moretti seems strangely ostracized sitting at his drum set, which is on a platform well behind the band. Nick Valensi and Nikolai Fraiture, the guitarist and bass player respectively, man their positions at the starboard side of the stage. Front man Julian Casablancas strolls in, a red solo cup in hand. There they all are, just a screen pass away.
The Strokes begin their set with “What Ever Happened?,” the first track on their new album. Good choice. The album has been out less than a week, but everybody knows the song. There is something that must be understood about Strokes fans; they do their homework.
The song finishes and after three minutes, the audience is already feigning for the next song. The set continues evenly divided between Is This It and Room on Fire, the Strokes’ two albums. Casablancas grabs the microphone in the classic fashion of lead singers who do not play an instrument, with two hands slopped over the top and head tilted slightly as if he is making out with it. He screams with a deep, raspy, yet somehow melodic voice that is the result of genetics and the various forms of fluids and smoke that have been imbibed in mass quantities over the years. With the obvious exception of Moretti, the rest of the band stands like statues in the shadows. It is almost impossible to make out their facial features.
They play the song they are most known for but nobody came to hear, “Last Nite,” their proverbial “Smells like Teen Spirit.” And then there is “New York City Cops,” a song unreleased in North America. The crowd is chaotic within seconds. Instant recognition. Like I said, Strokes fans do their homework.
Casablancas finally admits that things are winding down, and I almost expect a collective and pitiful “ohhhhh” to emerge from the crowd. “Take or it Leave It” will be our final song because, as fans are informed, the Strokes do not do encore performances. I don’t believe them, but regardless, the Strokes launch into it.
Casablancas’s finest hour is upon us. He whacks a speaker with his microphone stand, breaking away the base of it. Wondering what to do with it, he brings it up like a spear before thinking better of himself and tossing it harmlessly behind him. Now he’s screaming out the chorus. He seems to crawl /roll into the crowd, still singing. A fairly large member of the event staff tries to pull him out of the enveloping crowd by his belt. Somehow, Casablancas returns to the stage for the end of the show and the illumination of the arena. Strokes fans made their way to the exits after the show with the rest of the crowd, sweaty and blown away.