Can The Strokes live up to the hype and Is This It? That was one of the biggest questions / expectations from fans and music critics alike, before the spectacular return of the cool New Yorkers, in the autumn of 2003.
Following the release of their seminal debut LP in 2001 (which re-invigorated NY Garage Punk Rock and New Wave), being hailed as "The Saviours of Rock 'n' Roll," and receiving more media attention than any of their contemporaries, Room On Fire was always going to be a 'make or break' record for The Strokes. After abandoning initial recording sessions with Nigel Godrich, the band decided to once again collaborate with producer Gordon Raphael, and the results a continuation of the same winning formula and their trademark sound.
However, Room On Fire is by no means identical to its predecessor, and although it isn't as instant as Is This It, it becomes more rewarding with each listen - and is arguably, a more mature record. Whilst it does contain many idiosyncratic nods to Is This It, subtle differences have been carefully incorporated into the band's musical style, i.e. the '80s electro-pop of 12:51, the reggae-tinged Automatic Stop, and the understated / soulful ballad Under Control.
Julian's lyrics - whilst still sardonic and lovesick - are at times introspective, e.g. "I want to be forgotten, and I don't want to be reminded" from What Ever Happened? and "I never needed anybody, it won't change now" from Between Love & Hate - which have obviously been shaped by the band's global success and adulation.
Having been away for nearly a year, and playing only a handful of British shows during the Room On Fire World Tour - fans with tickets, are indeed an extremely lucky and privileged few. As you would expect, many of them are dressed like their favourite band - clad in converse trainers, blue jeans, ties and military-style jackets.
Although The Strokes take to the stage half an hour later than expected, it's more than worth the wait. They look great, and as Julian, Fab, Albert, Nick and Nikolai, stroll on stage to euphoric cheers - they smile appreciatively, and an air of NY cool fills Cardiff Arena.
As soon as I Can't Win begins, you notice that the lo-fi production of their records - as much as I love it - gives way to a louder sonic assault when the band play live.
Julian's searing / emotional voice (usually distorted by mic effects in the studio mix), and the band's rhythmic beats, are much cleaner, with each instrument clearly building the songs melodies - this is good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll. Both Valensi's & Hammond Jr's intricate guitar playing, along with their catchy riffs is exceptional, especially when paired with Moretti's puncturing drum beats and Fraiture's funky bass.
The set is dominated by new material, but not surprisingly, it's greeted by the audience with just as much enthusiasm as the 'golden oldies.' What Ever Happened? followed by Someday, and 12:51 by New York City Cops, all sound like they've been a part of your life for years - which is an outstanding achievement!
On stage, Casablancas is renowned for being reticent, and tonight is no exception. It's about the songs, and after thanking us for our response to Under Control, he simply says "That's enough of my B. S."
Reptilia rocks hard, whilst the classic Last Nite receives the loudest response of the night. As Albert hammers the unforgettable intro, our anticipation for Julian to start singing "Last night, she said " reaches fever pitch! For me, Hard To Explain is equally brilliant, and The End Has No End is also one of my personal favourites - I love the occasional song-breaks, which just leave Fab's drums.
If the trick is to keep us wanting more, be it live or on record, then The Strokes succeed every time. "Cardiff you've been fucking beautiful, this is called Take It Or Leave It" - the final words from Julian, and fittingly, the final song of the night.
Can The Strokes live up to the hype and Is This It? - in my eyes, they already have!
A very special thanks to Carl Delahuntey @ Coalition, for all of his help, and to The Strokes + their management / security.
I CAN'T WIN