One of my fellow South by Southwest registrant/badgeholders griped upon arrival at Auditorium Shores that the Strokes show was “going to be like a regular outdoor concert.” Oh, how jaded and insular the SXSW in-crowds can be.
It's true the concert grounds were packed all the way back to the port-o-pots. In fact, fans stuck outside the gate started crashing through fences and clamoring with police and security after the site filled to capacity (about 25,000 people, the most ever for a SXSW show). And yes, a lot of the fans were young, rowdy, drunk and prone to high-fiving each other. But they also sang and danced along with the kind of uninhibited zeal you don’t see at the regular showcases. If proof was needed that the Strokes still matter – especially with their long-awaited new album already earning a lukewarm reaction – this concert was it. And if out-of-town SXSW-goers hadn’t already fallen in love with Austin, the gorgeous spring weather and picturesque skyline backdrop would have had them at Julian Casablancas’ hello.
Opening with gusto using three of their best oldies (“What Ever Happened?,” “The Modern Age,” “You Only Live Once”), the New York quintet made its tightness and familiarity immediately known. They then launched into “Under Cover of Darkness,” the first of a half-dozen new songs scattered through the set – all of which varied their sound in one way or another. However, half of them fell flat and sounded awkwardly stitched together. The best one was the melodic and Brit-rocky “Taken for a Fool,” which they saved for late in the 80-minute set before ending with “Take It or Leave It,”
“This is [expletive] nice, with the buildings, the moon,” Casablancas said after walking back out for the encore. As the band kicked into the finale, “Last Nite,” fireworks literally went off. SXSW organizers had arranged a July 4-style finale to be lit off along the riverfront behind the stage. [Expletive] nice, indeed.