Ladies and Gentlemen: The Strokes

I remember the first time I heard The Strokes. It was 2001, I was watching MTV in my parents’ basement, and the video for “Last Nite” came on. I immediately thought it was cool, especially compared to what they’d been playing on MTV at that time. I called my dad into the room to see what he thought of it. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sounds like some half-assed rock and roll.” I guess I saw what he meant, especially coming from a jaded old man who saw Talking Heads at a house party, and also Jonathan Richman back when he still played with The Modern Lovers. Even as an eighteen year old, I made the immediate comparison between The Strokes and Television. Granted, the only reason I knew about Television was because my dad had introduced me to them a couple months prior.

I guess the reason this moment between my dad and me struck me was because I was standing there thinking, “Wow! Here’s a band that’s brand new and being played on MTV and I actually like them!” But my dad was standing there thinking, “So what? I saw this, but better, 25 years ago.”

A couple weeks ago I was in Mill Valley, California with Geoff Kabush to record voice-over for my film Working Dogs. I was there for three days, and we abided by a laid-back schedule. Geoff would train in the early part of the day while I would explore the area by foot, we would record audio for a couple hours in the afternoon, then we would find something fun to do at night. The last night I was there we decided to go to Sweetwater Music Hall to see some live music and get some dinner. It turned out to be their weekly open mic night. Unlike many open mics I’ve attended, everyone performing was relatively talented and entertaining. Geoff and I ate and had a couple beers, and enjoyed the show. Both of us were headed out on flights the next day, so after several acts we decided to stay for one more and then head home. Up to that point, there had been mainly singer/songwriter types with acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment. I realized this final act was different, as five gangly, long haired, fifteen year old boys awkwardly set up amps, drums, and guitars on stage. It was shaping up to be a full-on rock and roll band performance.

The boys finished setting up, slung their guitars over their shoulders, and sprung to life playing the highly recognizable “Under Cover of Darkness” by The Strokes. Joy washed over me in an awesome wave. These kids were by no means playing the song as well as The Strokes, but to me, it might as well have been The Strokes up there. I felt the same way that I did the first time I heard “Last Nite” when I was eighteen.

After I flew back to Boston the next day, being the YouTube obsessive that I am, I started watching all of The Strokes’ music videos. It turns out that over the span of their career, they’ve produced a lot of really great videos that are performance only. Six to be exact. Just the band playing, with no side story line or other imagery.

Last Nite actually isn’t even a music video in the conventional sense. It’s an actual performance, shot and recorded live. This was the original video that turned me on to the band.

You Only Live Once shows the band struggle to play inside of what appears to be a shipping container, as it fills with black tar liquid.

Under Cover of Darkness meanders through the halls of an old theatre as ghost versions of The Strokes play their song after presumably dying from drowning in tar in the You Only Live Once video.

Reptilia is probably my favorite. The band performs the song while the director chooses to only show it in close-ups of their hands, feet, and faces, while they all seem to be in separate rooms.

Taken For A Fool depicts a tripped out double, triple, and even quadruple image of the band performing as the camera circles around them.

12:51 is shot as though the song was on the Tron soundtrack, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.

So this might be what The Strokes have on their seventies forefathers. Sure, Talking Heads have the best concert film of all time with Stop Making Sense, but they don’t have a collection of brilliant performance music videos like this. I wonder when my dad reads this and watches the videos, if he’ll be impressed or if he’ll just shrug his shoulders.