How often does a band play exactly the same venue, as they did at the beginning of their career? Right; the exact number must be vanishingly small. Especially if we’re talking about a band that did (and still could) easily fill giant arenas, has been absent for a while and is supposed to release a long-awaited comeback in the next couple of months. The band I’m writing these lines about is of course called The Strokes, who just played the kick-off show of their intimate European tour in Berlin’s Columbiahalle. A venue they also played eighteen years ago.
The announcement that came just two weeks ahead of the gig lead to hysteria among music fans throughout Europe – the tickets were sold out within seconds, leading many to second-ticket sites and probably many more to being scammed by touts (that is another point, though). The lucky few 3000 who were able to secure tickets, were mostly somewhere between their early 20 and early 40s. Those who would’ve been able to see their favorite band back in the day and those who would not have left Kindergarten by the time The Strokes released their iconic debut Is This It.
Truthfully, I belong to the latter. And the heyday of indie music doesn’t just feel so long ago because of my age back then, but also because of the changes that happened to the music and entertainment scene in the meantime. Indie has never been very much political back in the day and occurred to be more about sex, drugs, drunken fights and so on. This time around it seems though as if The Strokes got something very right. The announcement of their upcoming sixth album The New Abnormal happened nowhere else than at the Bernie Sanders rally in New Hampshire. In Berlin, there were at least a few young people holding Bernie posters up high in front of the venue.
Lad culture and hysteria
Inside, those lucky enough to secure a ticket could grasp a sense of what it was like to attend a Strokes concert back in the day. There was a bit of lad culture here, a bit of hysteria there. Even during changeover, there were already a few girls pulled out of the crowd by securities. Expectably, you couldn’t witness many new songs throughout the evening. The setlist was a profound potpourri mainly made out of material from Is This It and First Impressions Of Earth, in between only the two already released songs The Adults Are Talking and Bad Decisions.
Musically, The Strokes made a very stable seeming impression. Although not every note out of Julian Casablancas’ mouth is even, all guitar riffs are straight and on point. Though some actions during the evening seemed a bit out of place – before closing track Last Night Julian asks the audience ‘to beat the shit out of him’. This is of course not something a right-minded fan would do, yet he jumps into the audience. Not just at this moment he is celebrated as nothing less than somewhat of the prophet saving guitar rock. And yes, it’s appropriate that The Strokes return during a time, where rock music really needs to be saved. We all know that indie music – despite some more-or-less successful comebacks – was pretty much expelled by rap and even pop music. Other genres found a voice to the societal changes we’ve been going through in the last years, especially by giving a voice to minorities or misfits that need to be heard.
Why indie needs politics
Most returning indie bands (The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand etc.) didn’t bring a much bigger meaning to their comeback than having people want to have a good time. Yes, it’s great to get drunk and wasted for a moment much like your heroes on stage, but there’s a responsibility beyond that. In November, the US elections will shape the future important issues like climate change, racism, gender equality. It’s pretty decisive who will be the next president and it seems like our indie heroes have finally found the answer. With The Strokes jumping on the Sanders-bandwagon much as Vampire Weekend did a few weeks earlier, the indie music heroes of the past two decades finally became political (again). Hopefully, it isn’t just a marketing strategy to reach a new target audience.
Although it wasn’t very political inside the venue (we were in Europe at last), you could grasp a sense of change in the air. The Strokes made their comeback and it’s in their hands now, if the new material will be exciting and in-depth enough to last for longer than the comeback of most other indie bands. One thing is for sure: You could sense a grasp of euphoria and new beginnings throughout the evening and that didn’t just belong to Bernie supporters outside the venue.