Julian Casablancas: Cooler than the Kool Haus

When Julian Casablancas hit the stage of Toronto’s Kool Haus, you had a sense that the show wasn’t going to be about the Strokes, and it wasn’t even going to be about him; it was going to be about the future of rock in the electronic age. Casablancas may be the ideal ambassador.

The opening band, The Funeral Party, was an energetic group from L.A., and for all of their talent and intensity, it was difficult to ignore a certain generic quality that many contemporary rock bands share: a whiney voice, intensified with soft, juvenile lyrics. It’s music people will continue to listen to for now (myself included, probably), but it’s not what we’ll be listening to, and reminding ourselves of, in two or three years.

Casablancas’ music, though, continues to have the epic quality that made The Strokes so infinitely successful: its ability to endure time. Which is not to say his album, Phrazes for the Young, is a Strokes continuation…because it sure as hell isn’t. Some of his music is esoteric to say the least, but it’s the type of music we’ll be dissecting for years to come. You often feel like he’s ahead of our time, even though his lyrics – deeper than they seem at first – are thoughtfully characteristic of it.

Just as cool as his music, is Casablancas himself. He wears red skinny jeans and a leather rein stone jacket, and has pretty much the coolest voice on the planet. He speaks to his fans like he’s speaking to an old friend, and the entire crowd eats it up. “You guys over at the ice bar there,” he yells to a lounge area far off to the side of the mob in front of the stage, “Fuck you!”

Casablancas and his band played songs like Out of the Blue, River of Brakelights and 11th Dimension with passion and intensity. His vocal capabilities were unexpectedly strong, and the audience seemed surprised with his ability to carry a note. When he played Hard to Explain, the popular Strokes song from the Is This It album, the crowd erupted to an unsurpassable level. People were dancing with their eyes locked on him, and when he jumped down into the crowd near the show’s end, I feared for his life.

Not many artists can garner this kind of attention on the strength of one album, but you can’t help but surmise that many in the audience purchased their tickets with the faint optimism that he would play a Strokes song. If this is true, they got much more than what they paid for.

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