Dr Julian Says Get Fucked Up!
Onstage, backstage and at the aftershows, it’s non-stop party time as The Strokes and NME do Los Angeles
“Hey Los Angeles! It’s Saturday night. Do some stoopid shit! Get fucked up!” Julian Casablancas lurches towards the edge of the stage, teeters on the brink as if to fall into the sea of adoring, outstretched arms, then rights himself in the nick of time. He smirks, half turns, thinks better of it and addresses us once more:
“Los Angeles!” he shouts, pronouncing it “Angle-ease” with a hard, sharp ‘G’. “Get some pills! Do stoopid shit. Dr Julian says get fucked up. That’s my advice. Get fucked up!”
Sounds cool. Let’s get to it!
The Strokes are rampant tonight, there’s no other word for it. Last night, November 1, they were kinda introverted, Lower East Side New York aliens close-knit and protective in the chill western Cali air. But tonight they are utterly, unstoppably rampant.
“Dude sure looks fucked up, man,” says Jesus in Row C, barely audible above the mass screaming. He and his three mates Gil, Don and Dre are Latino Strokes clones from South Central LA, with the sunken eyes and chiseled cheekbones, the messed-up hair and the drainpipe strides, the disheveled suit jackets and skinny ties. They look so like a band, if you were in A&R you’d sign them on the spot and worry about songs and record sales and shit like that later. “Totally awesome!” yells Jesus.
True dude. True. After a nervous Friday when the threatened celebrity count in the crowd spread a creeping fear throughout the Strokes camp, tonight The Greek is theirs. Perched high in a fairytale canyon in Griffith Park, way up above the twinkling city lights in the Hollywood Hills, just a mile or so beneath the observatory where James Dean dueled with a blade in Rebel Without A Cause, The Greek has just about seen them all. An outdoor amphitheatre since 1930, it’s a beautiful spot, some 6,000 seats surrounded by forest, the trees resplendent in the lilac light of the stage.
Julian blinks at the scene, grins and dedicates the next song to the leaves. “Pretty motherfuckers,” he mumbles, then laughs.
The shows are sponsored by KROQ, the hip LA rock radio station that holds an annual Summer Weenie Roast and an Acoustic Xmas, and a couple of hundred competition winners jostle for Julian’s attention in the pit right down front. To the right, a pair of blonde Valley dolls unsuccessfully attempt to bribe their way in past the burly security. Stage left, the snowy-haired figure of Elliott Roberts — manager of legends and sometime partner of Tinseltown mega-mogul David Geffen — also fails to persuade the hired muscle to let two teenage male relatives into the pit. When the man behind such ancient rock royalty as Bob Dylan and Neil Young can’t call the tune, you damn well know there’s been a change of the guard.
The Los Angeles Times will acknowledge just that in its review of the gig a few days later, The Strokes, they will say, are spearheading “the renewed rock spirit” which has been championed by “the always hyperventilating British rock press” (hey, dat’s us!), The paper goes on to confirm that this movement is rapidly gaining ground in America, “helping turn young rock fans onto something more substantial than Blink-182… opening the door to a generation of exciting and passionate new bands including The White Stripes and The Hives… bands that also have distinctive stances and draw upon such ’60s rock values as introspective themes and melodic tunes.”
The LA Weekly agrees: “I was convinced The Strokes might be REALLY important when I visited my 12-year-old cousin a while back and saw that he had let his buzz cut grow out into a dirty mop after hearing ‘Is This It’,” writes some smark spark called Alec Hanley Bemis, “His head now looks like a shrunken replica of Juilan Casablancas’ visage. Though my cousin hasn’t quit the baseball team yet, he has started playing bass guitar. The Strokes are that good.”
These shows at The Greek are the biggest yet by any of the new breed. As sales of ‘Is This It’ top 500,000, both nights have been sold out for weeks. EBay auctions have been quoting prices about $70, and tickets from touts outside in the dusty car park start at $120, some $90 above their official face value.
Support comes from old Noo Yawk sparring partners The Mooney Suzuki both nights, The Realistics on Friday, and Rooney, the boyband Stroke-alikes who recently sold out two nights at the Whisky A-Go-Go on the Strip and packed it with squealing babes, on the Saturday. Strangely enough, all the venue bars close bang on 9.30pm, just as The Strokes come on. But, hey, you need ID if you look under 30, and no-one’s missing the booze by the time the screaming starts to ‘New York City Cops’, back in as the set opener now that the emotional dust from September 11 has settled somewhat.
“How da fuck you doin’ tonite?” Julian asks as the band lurch into the now-established newie ‘Meet Me In The Bathroom’. We are doing mighty good, thanks.
‘Someday’ and ‘Hard To Explain’ are taut and edgy, Fab Moretti driving the songs headlong into the buffers as Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi perfect the admirable art of smoking and playing simultaneously. As Albert spits his dog-end into the night and crashes to the floor, Julian hails up to the mic.
“Sorry, I fucked up my knee and I’m limping. I love you motherfuckers!”
Later, the knee, which was damaged way before Reading and meant a tour with Weezer had to be cancelled, is packed with ice backstage. Right now, though, Julian’s staggering around with gay abandon.
‘Is This It’ precedes another call to “get fucked up tonight and do stoopid shit”. Then it’s ‘You Talk Too Much’, the new number that best seems to reflect the band’s current predicament. Still out on the road 18 months after their debut album’s release, the hot rumour is that the guys would rather be back in New York working on the follow-up than trawling the country trying to promote ‘Is This It’ over the magic million mark. “Give me some time/I just need a little time…”, Julian howls with palpable frustration, but Albert looks so goofy-cool firing off the frenetic solo that the song emerges in triumph over despair.
During ‘Trying Your Luck’ Julian finally fulfills his promise and tumbles arse over tit into the screaming throng. As security struggle to extract him from the melee, the band kick into ‘Last Nite’. Dave and Jem, two jock-types in Row D, hold their mobiles high, transmitting the mayhem back home to San Bernadino.
‘Alone Together’ sets up another new one that Julian brags “is gonna blow your fuckin’ minds”, and we’re off and tangled up in the giddy ‘That’s The Way It Is’, the singer flashing devil signs out into the night.
‘Soma’ is introduced as “a love song about me and Nick”, and ‘I Can’t Win’ as “some more new shit, if that’s OK with you”, before ‘Barely Legal’ barges into the climactic ‘Take It Or Leave It’, Julian repeatedly punching himself hard in the head and giving us the finger. Just before he falls into the crowd again, he kisses the stoic Nikolai Fraiture, and emerges ruffled to leave us with “God bless you all!”
Fab leaps out from behind his kit as his compadres troop off, and backflips into the pit, where he is held aloft in the pose of the crucifix before staggering back onstage, skidding on a spilled beer and crashing into his kit. He quits waving and grinning, steam rising from the sweat freezing on his T-shirt. Fifty minutes. No encore. Los Angeles is left high and gagging for more.
The aftershows are split. Friday’s is the Zeus bar, a wooden outdoor terrace. Saturday’s is in a suite indoors, where The Vines’ album is played over and over. Daisy and Gloriana hang around to meet the band.
Daisy works at the bar in the Whiskey at The Sunset Marquis, Gloriana on reception. The Marquis is The Strokes’ West Coast home from home. Dark-haired, dark-eyed Daisy’s been dealing beers to the boys for the past ten days since they blew in to lay up from the first leg of a tour that called time in Portland, Oregon. Gloriana found Julian an Elvis Halloween costume to wear in San Francisco, but he went and left it behind.
Daisy’s a New Yorker too and she adores The Strokes. Join us at the Whiskey later and, provided you’re down with a chick on the guestlist, you’ll blink your way into the candlelit bar where portraits of the Sex Pistols, Johnny Cash, the Stones and The Allman Brothers stare down from the walls, and Daisy will tell you she loves NME too, used to live in London and sing in a band. Cool.
Gloriana’s been at the Marquis for nearly three years and has met all her heroes — John Lydon, Alice Cooper, Ozzy and Iggy Pop — but there are few bands that she adores like she adores The Strokes. She drove to the Coachella Festival out in the desert to see the band back in May and then scooted down to San Diego just to see them again two days later. It’ll be up to the Beck/Flaming Lips tour to keep her spirits up when The Strokes head back east.
Other hotels may be more famous — The Chateau Marmont just up Sunset boasts John Belushi’s death bungalow, and the Hyatt House (aka Riot House) next door saw Led Zep riding motorbikes around its halls when they were gods in the ’70s — but the Marquis is where the true rock cognoscenti hang these days.
The Marquis is where Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan would have checked out for good had it not been for the hotel management and, in the 48 hours since NME checked in, we’ve shared vodkas and breakfast with Pharrell Williams, Johnny Knoxville, Steve Tyler, Tony Iommi, Iggy Pop, Drea De Matteo, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, Ryan Adams, Slash, Shaggy, and all the Osbournes except Jack.
Taking soup and Coronas with Kelly Osbourne by the pool, she tells NME how she used to live here when she was a kid and how her mum got mad when she’d come back from a meeting to find that Ozzy’d knobbed off in some state or another and left her being babysat by Mötley Crüe! Just as she gets to the end of the tale, Fab strolls over and they exchange a hi and a hug. When Fab lopes off, she tells NME she’s embarrassed because she made out with him once when she was drunk and now she never knows what to say when she sees him.
Fab’s been a busy boy. Apart from whooping it up in the Whiskey most nights with Albert and Nikolai (Julian seldom shows and Nick never does), he’s been jamming with Slash and the wreck of Guns N’Roses that Axl left behind.
After a brief rehearsal one afternoon, he sits in at a party and plays ‘Brown Sugar’ with the band while Ronnie Wood and Dave Navarro look on. Fab and LA go well together.
Back at the aftershow, Daisy says she was way down the front at the gig and there were girls there who, were it not for the unseasonal chill, would have torn off their bras and chucked them at the band. “They’re so much cooler than other bands,” she says. “I mean, look at them. All they have to do is stand there.”
Nikolai is the first Stroke to appear, and Daisy goes over to thank him for the tickets. Albert is next, joshing with a gaggle of pals, spilling beer in the ruckus. Fab stays backstage, reportedly in hot pursuit of his major obsession, Drew Barrymore. Likewise, Nick doesn’t show. He stays backstage with Amanda De Cadenet.
When Julian finally lollops out, a group of four girls immediately make a beeline for him while a friend fumbles with her camera. Julian mugs it up for the lens, two chicks on each side.
“Don’t fuckin’ tell me how to pose!” he bellows, and begins with the devil horns again. Next a sleek blonde sidles over for a pic and, as he puts his arm round her, she slips Julian’s hand down inside her bra. Gentleman that he is, he leaves it there for the camera then accepts a smackeroo on the cheek.
By the time a stern-looking brunette has fussily wiped off the lipstick stain so that no trace of another female will ruin her shot, Julian’s wearing a grin that would put the Cheshire Cat to shame.
Next stop Las Vegas.