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March 29, 2010

Concert review: Julian Casablancas at Rams Head Live

Julian Casablancas looks pretty cool in this photo. Midnight Sun writer Patrick Gavin saw Julian Casablancas last night at Rams Head Live. Here is his review:

"Nice little crowd we got here, Baltimore, f--- yeah!"

Nothing masks disappointment like a casual expletive. The operative word in that quote from Julian Casablancas, the Strokes front man turned solo artist, was "little."

"Little" as in Rams Head Live last night opted to cordon off its second and third floors because the modest crowd could comfortably fit in the downstairs stage/bar area.

"Little" as in this crowd would be considered a tad scant for the cover act Mr. Greengenes, who played the same venue two nights prior, let alone the guy who did as much for the garage rock revival on both sides of the Atlantic in the 2000s as Jack White.

"Little" as in ... all right, all right. Suffice it to say that Mr. Casablancas could have helped that humble pie go down a bit smoother ...

By the end of his 12-song, one-hour set, Casablancas had performed seven cuts off of his November release, "Phrazes for the Young," one meandering new song, one B-side from the Strokes' "First Impressions of Earth", one classic from "Is This It," and two iTunes bonus tracks (a.k.a. d-sides) for "Phrazes."

We get it, Julian. You're 31 and you're not Billy Joel, so fans shouldn't expect you to kick out the old jams exclusively. By all means, don't rest solely on your laurels. Play the new album. It's heavy but stout (like Guinness!) at only eight tracks. Play the thing "Dark Side"-style beginning to end if you like. But give us a couple Strokes hits too.

When played live, "Phrazes" gains a raucous post-punk edge sorely missing from the synthed-up studio version, on which tracks like "Ludlow St." can sound like one of those six-minute Rufus Wainwright songs that's a little too grandiose for its own good.

What Mr. Casablanca's show sorely missed were out-and-out crowd-pleasers. For those who wore their dancing shoes Sunday night, only "Hard to Explain" gave them opportunity to use 'em.

The famously confident singer even registered his anxiety, saying "I always focus on the people who are bored. I don't know why." This was after playing a song, "30 minute boyfriend," that can only be purchased as a throw-in for those who buy his entire album electronically. Those folks he was staring at might have been less bored on the heels of "Someday," "Take It or Leave It" or "Reptilia."

Lord knows Mr. Casablancas and his supporting band – complete with three axmen, two drummers, and a versatile sixth man – had the firepower to pull off any of the old burners. But after a short set capped with the "Saturday Night Live" skit-based "I Wish It Was Christmas Today," no doubt many fans were left wondering, "Is this it?"

Set list:

1. Ludlow St.
2. River of Brakelights
3. Out of the Blue
4. New Song
5. 11th Dimension
6. I'll Try Anything Once
7. 30 Minute Boyfriend
8. Hard to Explain
9. Left & Right in the Dark
10. Glass


4 Chords of the Apocalypse
I Wish it was Christmas Today (based on the "SNL" skit)

(Photo by Williams + Hirakawa)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:13 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Concert reviews


This review is so negative.
The crowd was little, but what do you expect? Julian Casablancas isn't exactly the biggest solo act. If it was the Strokes, then the show would have probably been sold out. However, for the little crowd wasn't bored at all. I don't know where this guy was, but I was at the front of the stage and there was definitely a lot of jumping, pushing, and singing a long.
Another thing, I'm pretty sure you forgot that this is a solo tour, not "let's-cover-songs-by-the strokes". It's a pretty damn good set list for an album that only has 8 tracks. Do you really expect him to play Strokes songs anyways? They just began to start on a new album after, what, five years? I mean, come on.
Besides, this man has a fantastic voice and stage presence. Not to mention his solo album is great.

Oh yeah, and you spelled BILLIE Joe wrong.

I went to his show in Atlanta and it was honestly the most fun I have ever had. I was extremly impressed, beyond my (already very high) expectations, so much so I bought tickets to the show in New Orleans. I have a very hard time believing it was as drab as you claim. If even 1 person in baltimore had as an amazing time as I had (which I would be my car on) then it was a complete success. and for the record the atlanta show had tons of people and they were all ecstatic, ZERO BORED.

Thank you so much so for the review, Patrick.


Wasn't he referring to Billy Joel, like, you know, the artist the writer actually named?

Personally, the concert was amazing and everything I hoped it would be from Julian and I definitely was one of the people jumping in the front and the others like Melody mentioned probably were my friends haha.

I went to his show in DC back in January, and it was easily 10 times better than last night. But perhaps that's because last night, while front row, I was off the the right side a bit, so I couldn't really make out the song in it's entirely very well, and when songs are that complex, with that many parts, aren't perfectly balanced it's a complete disaster/mess. So that's not at the fault of Julian. Had I been ten yards back and center, the sound could've been perfect.

However, I did realize that during the whole performance Julian was facing the opposite way, to his right and my left. On occasion he'd tease us, walk in our direction, and we'd all scream and reach out. He recognized our eagerness (just one touch man, real quick!) yet only bowed his awkward bow and said "thanks" rejecting us once again. It's likely that, in this regard, I have too high of expectations. But after my experience at 9:30 club, when was down in the crowd for the entirety of "Glass" and more, I couldn't help but be disappointed at how standoffish he was behaving. (maybe still sore about the "little"crowd? well, to that i say, don't take it out on the fans that did show!) Granted, after the show was over, he did come over down the line and gave us...what do you call those? running high-fives?

Anyway, don't get me wrong, I'm a huge, huge fan. Guess I shouldn't have seen him again, after a flawless (in my uber-biased fangirl mind) DC show. Now my memories are a little tainted.

Anyway, I don't think he should have played more Strokes songs. It's controversial enough already. I get that "[he] wrote that s*** [he] can play it" but some people seem to find it a little odd, if not wrong, without the other four Strokes. As for me, I'm back and forth about it.

As for the bit about the crowd dancing, I don't think it has anything to do with opportunity. I think Julian's solo work is perfectly suitable, if not ideal, music to dance to. Our generation just lacks that sort of comfort in public dancing, for some reason....especially, it seems, at these sort of concerts (I don't want to generalize...but what I mean is rock/alternative/indie/etc). Could be wrong though. I know I was dying to dance. In fact I envied that one kid, ONE, who was jumping up and down the entire time, pumping his fist. Why can't I have that sort of self-confidence? I actually leaned to my friend (whom I forced to come with me even though she'd not once heard a Julian song) multiple times throughout the night professing my guilt for not dancing, and my sympathy for both the opening band and Julian; they're up on stage, so passionate, producing truly good/great music (subjective), and yet the crowd looks bored out of their minds. I mean, I certainly wasn't, I was having a great time, but you more than likely couldn't tell from my outward appearance. And because of that I know it must be the farthest thing from rewarding, sometimes, to be up on that stage. I'm sure Julian was frustrated. And I know that I shouldn't feel foolish dancing. The mere fact that no one was dancing surely warrants some sort of social study, does it not? About the apathy of our generation or something? Is it even apathy? The desire to appear appathetic? Who knows. Just intriguing, is all.

Gah anyway, sorry for such a long post. Just had a lot to say, I suppose. All in all a fair review.

I have to say that I agree whole heartedly with the review and that it's spot-on since I personally witnessed the same thing. I'm a huge Strokes fan, and feel that their music is light years ahead in terms of quality compared to Julian's solo stuff, which is why everyone went crazy for "Hard To Explain." Julian's new album has like 3 or 4 great songs and the rest aren't that listenable. I didn't even know there were extra songs you could buy through Amazon or itunes until yesterday when I went looking for the xmas song he sang. He also has to stop singing "I'll Try Anything Once"- it's either a stripped down/alternate version of or cheap knock-off of the best song from First Impressions of Earth- "You Only Live Once."
Julian definitely should've sprinkled in some more Strokes songs to liven up the crowd, and it's obvious the band could play the Strokes songs if they had to. Paul McCartney plays Beatles and Wings hits along with his solo stuff, Sting plays Police hits along with his solo stuff, and David Lee Roth has played Van Halen songs during his solo act tours. So, it's not like it would be too far out of the ordinary to hear Julian sprinkle in some more Strokes tunes to please those fans who aren't as familiar with his solo material. I have a feeling most people wouldn't mind if he did that since you still get his voice, even if the backing band is different. It'd be weird if we were talking about Albert Hammond Jr's performance of Strokes tunes with a new/different singer.
Finally, as for crowd size, what does he expect? The Strokes have a niche following in B'more, and a little bit bigger following in DC. The lead singer of a band with a borderline cult following playing his new solo album which has spawned what, one song that's garnered any radio play on WRNR(?) is not going to attract a huge crowd on a Sunday night.
I'd say the most positive part of the show Sunday night was getting to see Julian Casablancas up close to the point where I could make out every detail on his face, which is something that I haven't been able to at the 2 Strokes shows I've been to over the years.

I too was at the concert on Sunday night and it was awesome. I didn't expect there to be a large crowd, he's not a very big name and it was a great show. I loved that I was right up against the stage and right in front of him, you can tell that he really loves what he is doing. Does anyone know the name of the new song that he played? I have a set list from the show but it just says "new song" ??

I think that was very negative blog i love julian i wish i could go to a concernt to the only thing iv ever noticed about jules on stage is he wears the exact same skinny jeans every time

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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