If you have followed Julian Casablancas’s career, you know he has always looked toward the future of music. What he was unable to achieve with the latter day Strokes he was able to fully explore on his first solo album, his pet sounds of 80s guitars and synthesizers. Julian seems intent on recapturing the heart of whatever was transcendent about that decade–the ambition, the excess, the cheesiness. His newest incarnation, as leader of The Voidz, is the dark alley of that sonic territory. It’s a heavy, distorted siren sound fit for our post-apocalypse-obsessed times, and last night at The Roxy, a small crowd got a glimpse of the future.
No opening band, the curtain rose to a stage bedecked with tiny monitors displaying neon test patterns and undulating sine waves. Taking their aesthetic cues from The Warriors, The Voidz are a motley gang pastiche of 80s/90s/00s junk culture, making a noise that you would expect in a world of drones and cylons. Punk, metal, hardcore, progressive, pop, hip hop, disco, middle eastern music–the new songs throw it all in the blender. It’s difficult to make out the words through the vocal effect and Julian’s signature croonscream (“dropping five hundred pounds of hell”), but in his press “VHS,” Casablancas states The Voidz is a protest album, a subtle but universal theme that “there seems to be no way around corruption being king now and forever and always. ” There is definitely a distinct bleak and nihilistic feel to the songs, which is badass. Underpinning it all is Casablancas’s canny knack for melody and rhythm.
The playing is super tight. Casablancas has assembled a crack band of musicians to usher in his new world order. Twin guitar attack of Jeramy Gritter and Amir Yaghmai, looking like a porn star from Cobra Kai and a heavy metal Persian wizard respectively, add the familiar arpeggiated yet freshly dark and dissonant tone to Casablancas’s sound. Jake Bercuovici on bass and synth chooses to remain anonymous off to the left, as does Jeff Kite on synths and guitar to the right. Julian is in top vocal form, skulking the stage in a leather jacket riddled with with glittering metal studs. The true hero of the night, though, who threatens to outmagnetize the hypermagnetic frontman, is drummer Alex Carapetis. From first song to last, Carapetis’s unrelenting powerful precision beat adds monolithic dimensions to the tiny club, properly evoking the noir nightmare landscape of the music. The crowd eats it up–it’s been over ten years, after all, since we’ve been able to see Julian perform in a small club like this–cheering and snapping a thousand cellphone photos a second. They writhe and generate steam heat when they hear the best of Phrazes for the Young (especially the ever-danceable 11th Dimension). But they unleash their love in torrents when he announces the next song will be a classic from way back, “Take It Or Leave It.”
Having seen The Strokes many times and Julian’s only other (seated) solo show in LA in 2009, I can attest that this was one of his finest performances. His mercurial mood and singing confidence seem wholly dependent on the perfect nexus of venue, sound, and crowd, and here at The Roxy he found his trifecta. Notorious for being reticent between songs, last night he was effusive, gushing about the energy from the crowd (the best show they’ve played, he says), cracking jokes with Alex and Amir. The dude looks and sounds amazing, and if they were able to capture on the album half of the spirit and energy they pumped out in LA last night, then The Voidz LP is bound to become the future of music.