Harlem, New York
December 30, 2001
Singer Julian Casablancas of the Strokes caught tonight's abnormal magic perfectly: “Us white guys at the fucking Apollo,” ha said, slightly dazed, as if he'd just bumped into the ghosts of Redd Foxx and Jackie Wilson. “Not the usual shit.”
Not by a long shot. The Strokes and Guided by Voices — young devils and tough old birds, respectively, of alt-pop — were so far uptown they needed passports to get off the subway. On the first of the bands' two nights here (they came back for New Year's Eve), the audience was so cowed by the history and intimacy of the Apollo that no one stood up when the Strokes lit into their opener, “When It Started” — until Casablancas flew into the crowd and harangued everyone out of their seats.
There was no reason to sit after that. In soul-revue style, each band played a pair of alternating blitzkrieg sets, which suited the setting and the silver-bullet temper of the music. The Strokes tore through most of Is This It plus two new songs with combative joy. Guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. hit the climactic bridge of “Alone, Together” with twice the blood and speed of the Strokes' club gigs a year ago. Fabrizio Moretti's robotic drums in “Meet Me in the Bathroom” beat like a black heart under the golden splash of the guitars.
GBV played a box set's worth of tunes in their two sets but invested singer-songwriter Robert Pollard's punk-pop miniatures with rock-opera force: heave-ho choruses, meaty guitars. Live, the hairpin hooks and wordplay in “Eureka Signs” and “Tight Globes” sounded like Who's Next pulled through the eye of a needle. The Strokes and GBV teamed for a boozy encore of “My Valuable Hunting Knife” that would have gotten 'em booed off on Apollo amateur night. Yet in every other way, this was a great night in a special place: light on R&B but full of bright white noise.
This story is from the February 14th, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone.