The Strokes frontman sounds like a musician bent on destroying his appeal

Julian Casablanca
Julian Casablancas, the Strokes frontman, performed with his backup band at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit. Photo by Eric Kiska.
By Eric Kiska
Music writer

It’s a painful but common tale for an artist to be a shade of what they once were. Julian Casablancas, the Strokes frontman, was a poster child for the garage rock revival movement in the early 2000s. Impressively, he wrote every song on The Strokes’ first two albums, but has spent every album since dismantling any musical appeal that he once had. When he and his new backup band Julian Casablancas + The Voidz came to St. Andrews Hall on Wednesday night, it sounded like a man who was trying to destroy himself.

His new record “Tyranny” is a self-indulgent and reckless hike into unknown territory for Casablancas. Now he has a backup band of session musicians with him (The Voidz) who look like they are from a 1970s pornography set. They barely missed a note the whole night, but the music they were playing was ill-composed and headache-inducing.

Casablancas told Rolling Stone in a recent interview that “this is the final destination – this record is what I’ve been wanting to make since the first record.” I could only hope that Casablancas gets back on the train and goes back to where he first hopped on.

Julian Casablanca
Julian Casablancas + The Voidz performed at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit. Photo by Eric Kiska.

When The Strokes came onto the scene, many expected them to be the “saviors of rock n’ roll.” This was an obtuse statement in itself because it would suggest that rock n’ roll was dead. Obviously, those that made those statements didn’t take a listen to what was around them.

Pressure and creative exhaustion slowly dwindled Casablancas down to a mediocre musician and performer. Once known for his cool but rebellious charm on stage, now Casablancas just looks careless. He spent half of the show crouching, slouching, or with his back turned to the audience while his chaotic noise rock drowned out his vocals.

His voice, which was once a lovely croon that drew comparisons to Lou Reed, is now drowned in effects. On some songs he uses auto-tune, which is almost a slap in the face to himself and his fans.

Somehow, he still has a devoted following. Young girls screamed for him like they did for the Beatles in the 1960s. The floor also seemed as if it was bouncing during the show, like it could cave in at anytime. Although he is older and noticeably less youthful, Casablancas still has some misshaped mystical appeal about him. Now it’s more for his looks than his music.

St. Andrews Hall in Detroit.
St. Andrews Hall in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.

The one thing Casablancas did right was pick a good venue. St. Andrews Hall opened in 1907 on E. Congress as a gathering for St. Andrews Society of Detroit. In 1980, they started hosting more live music. It soon became a small but intimate place that brought in some of the most famous artists in the country. Musicians such as Nirvana, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M. have played there. The basement, which is called “The Shelter,” is known for being one of the first places famed Detroit rapper Eminem performed.

An upcoming schedule for concerts at St. Andrews Hall can be found on its website. Julian Casablancas + the Voidz will be performing tomorrow at Kool Haus in Toronto, Ontario.

Eric Kiska

Eric Kiska graduated from Northern Michigan with a BS in English and writing and minor in art and design. He’s also a former video editor at Detroit Public TV.