Julian Casablancas + The Voidz Kick Off Tour at the Electric Factory

When a true legend walks on stage, you can feel it in the air. You can see it in the eyes of each fan in the front row, gripping the rail and gazing upward in unfathomable idolatry. You can hear it in the deafening roar that pulsates through the spacious Electric Factory when Julian Casablancas, mastermind of The Strokes, finally breathes smooth, airy vocals into his hot pink, duct-taped microphone.

If that sounds dramatic, that’s because it is—Julian Casablancas is one of the most powerful rock icons in the world. Time and time again, whether he performs with The Strokes, The Voidz, or as a solo artist, Casablancas has proved that he is a versatile genius with a gift for captivating a crowd.

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Fame changes people, but not Casablancas. He exudes his signature rocker persona with his Houston Rockets bomber jacket, tight leather pants, and timeless shaggy haircut, yet he still seems genuine. He doesn’t carry himself as Julian Casablancas, the man who revolutionized twenty-first century rock and directly inspired bands like Arctic Monkeys to start making music.  He is Julian Casablancas, the thirty-six-year-old husband and father who makes goofy dad-jokes and reads radical political theory for fun. He is Julian Casablancas, Velvet Underground super fan who plays Lou Reed songs over the Electric Factory speakers while his crew sets up the stage. He is Julian Casablancas, who smiles, blushes and glances down at the ground when he sees his fans react to material from his new album Tryanny.

Julian Casablancas kicks off his tour with “Human Sadness,” the first song released to promote his work with The Voidz . It’s an eleven-minute, electro-rock introduction to the next era of Casablancas’s music, considered to mirror the tumultuous emotions he felt after his father’s recent death. “This is a long song,” Casablancas comments during an instrumental break.

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Though he has plenty of experience after nearly fifteen years of activity, Casablancas still seemed a bit nervous to debut new material. “A lot of these songs, it’s the first time I’m ever playing them…” he muses, a red spotlight illuminating his frame. It’s his first official tour show with The Voidz—they played Tyranny material at Shea Stadium, along with a secret show in a Brooklyn loft under the name “Rawk Hawks,” but this show is the first opportunity to see how a typical crowd will react to the album’s heavy, layered material. The Electric Factory show featured the live debuts of “Xerox,” “Nintendo Blood,” and “Take Me in Your Army,” each of which were well-received by the crowd.

Julian Casablancas is certainly comfortable with this transitional stage in his career, and he doesn’t seem to miss The Strokes—he recently told Rolling Stone that he doesn’t “emotionally feel anything” from playing songs like “Last Nite,” one of The Strokes’s first break-through hits. But despite this, he still exhibits the same behaviors that any diehard Strokes fan will recognize. For one thing, Casablancas covers guitarist Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter’s eyes while he solos, a gimmick that he pioneered with The Strokes’s rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. And as always, Casablancas still can’t get the hang of stage banter—it’s his awkward-dad-persona coming out in him. “Is it bad that I’m just an anti-banter guy?” he says, before yelling, “Are you having a good time tonight?” in a goofy, joking voice.

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Julian Casablancas + The Voidz put a fun spin on “Crunch Punch,” breaking into silence and freezing in place at random intervals in the song. The silence never lasted for long, though—it was filled with the sound of screaming fans. Though the show wasn’t sold out, fans were so enthusiastic that it sounded like the Electric Factory was completely packed.

After seeing his fans respond just as well to industrial, computerized songs from Tyranny as they did to “River of Brakelites,” the only song played from his debut solo album Phrazes for the Young, Casablancas was noticeably more comfortable on stage.

“It’s dance party time,” declares Casablancas before playing “Instant Crush,” his collaboration from Daft Punk’s most recent album Random Access Memories. He uses two microphones at once, one with a distorted filter, and at one point, he tries to jump-rope with his microphone cord (he was not successful).

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At the beginning of The Strokes’s career, Julian Casablancas was frequently criticized for not pulling his weight in the band with his vocals. But over time, Casablancas has developed a wide range—not to mention, he’s mastered a heart-shattering falsetto. Though he can reach the high notes in songs like “Nintendo Blood,” he played it safe on “Instant Crush” and sang the most vocally challenging portion of the song an octave down.

Julian Casablancas stands in the center of the stage and waits for his fans to calm down after hearing the melodic ear-candy of his Daft Punk hit. By the way he looks around at The Voidz, it’s clear that something big is about to happen.

“This song…” he starts. “I don’t even know what happens. Should we just do the chours?” he looks at The Voidz for approval. “It’s a dance party… It’s a Drake cover,” he jokes. But as soon as he references Drake, the lightbulb illuminates over Strokes superfans’s heads. “It’s all parts I wrote, so don’t get pissy. Let’s do a dance party—YOLO style.”

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The Voidz begin to play “You Only Live Once,” the first-track and timeless single from The Strokes’s third LP, First Impressions of Earth. For the first time in the history of Julian Casablancas’s career, he performs “You Only Live Once” while singing the lyrics to “I’ll Try Anything Once,” a pensive, slowed-down, demo version of “You Only Live Once.” In short, it’s enough to make any diehard Strokes fan’s head explode—before the song even finished, the news of this unlikely mashup had already spread across social media. “We only practiced this once,” Casablancas sings to the tune of the song. “We don’t believe in practice!”

The crowd at Electric Factory Thursday night didn’t just pay to see Julian Casablancas + The Voidz’s first tour show—they paid to see history. This mashup is something that probably won’t be seen again for a long time, if ever. So far on the tour, Casablancas hasn’t played “You Only Live Once” again, though he has played “Ize of the World,” a less popular, yet lyrically memorable song off of First Impressions of Earth.

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During their encore, the six-piece group plays “Dare I Care,” a distorted, Arabic-influenced song from Tyranny. Julian Casablancas jumps off stage, walks through the photo pit, and greets his fans at the rail. He blows a kiss to the crowd, finishes singing, and walks backstage, unaware of how star-struck his fans are.

Though “Instant Crush” and the “You Only Live Once”/”I’ll Try Anything Once” mashup were the most memorable parts of the show, the material from Tryanny still sounds great live. Most of Julian Casablancas + The Voidz’s crowd are transplanted Strokes diehards, but that’s not to say that the music wouldn’t still be well-respected and enjoyable without the name “Julian Casablancas” attached to it.

It’s hard to think that The Strokes may not be around forever, but there’s no need to worry. As long as Julian Casablancas is hard at work, the music he releases will be unmatchably masterful.

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Photos by Amanda Silberling

2 Comments

  1. Jimmy Goodman

    October 21, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    Very nice review. I too loved the show. It was a very unique and interesting offering of sounds, styles and composition, and I was impressed at how they pulled off so many different tones from the instruments live. It’s admirable that he is doing something completely different from his main act, The Strokes.

    In fact it moved me enough to write my own review too, if anyone is interested:
    http://www.rockandrollvegetarian.com/2014/10/19/julian-casablancas-philadelphia/

  2. Gabriel

    October 21, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    That wasn’t the first time the mashup happened, it happened on March 8th 2006 for the “Live on Radio One Sessions” sorry to burst your bubble

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