The Strokes kick off first tour dates in years with rare headline show in Toronto: Here’s what happened

Last night in Toronto, Canada, iconic New York group The Strokes officially kicked off their 2019 tour – their first since 2017. The headline show was a part of the band’s “global comeback” that also saw the group play a surprise, intimate warm up show in Los Angeles earlier this month.

The gig, which kicked off outdoor Toronto venue Budweiser Place’s 2019 season (their 25th anniversary to boot), was also a rare headline show for the band; most of their shows post-2011 have been festival sets. In fact, most of their remaining shows for 2019 are at festivals too. Not including the surprise show last week, this is the band’s only scheduled headline show in North America this year. It’s fair to say this is a band who have perfected the 90 minute festival headline set, and that’s very much what we saw tonight.

And it was an entertaining one. Casablancas was talkative throughout the night, commenting on everything from the cold weather, “I mean we are in Canada…”, to the big named sponsor of the stage, asking the crowd, “are you ready for the Budweiser revolution!?”. He told stories about missing the Raptors game the night before (because he only wanted to see the last few minutes of the match, but they wouldn’t let him in), talked about shredding (at life), and when he screwed up their cover of Erasure’s “A Little Respect”, he improved some lines and briefly jumped on the drums, ending the track with a “yabba dabba do”.

As for the music, the set tonight leant almost entirely on their earlier material, and was pretty similar to their warm up set at LA’s Wiltern last week; though we didn’t get any song debuts as they did (“The Adults Are Talking” didn’t reappear tonight). We did, however, get to see “Razorblade” make its first appearance since 2014, and songs like “Meet Me In The Bathroom” and “On The Other Side” are enjoying live inclusion for the first time since 2011 and 2006, respectively. Indeed, their first three albums, This Is It, Room on Fire and First Impressions of Earth took over the set. Only two songs were played that didn’t appear on their first three records – the mentioned Erasure cover and “Happy Ending” off of Comedown Machine.

“Heart in a Cage” opened the night up, as the sold out crowd of 16k+ jumped onto their feet, and they never sat back down. There was a great energy in the amphitheatre, weathered only slightly by the cold weather. Unsurprisingly, songs like “Reptilia” and “Last Nite” got the biggest reception, and proved as strong live as ever. The latter closed the main set ahead of a two track encore, featuring “Is This It” and “Sometimes”.

With 90 minutes of stage time, the set was still of festival length even in a headline setting. Given this was their only headline show in North America this year, it’s a pity they didn’t do a little more for what was promised to be a special show. Production wise, the band stood in front of a LED screen and a number of lights which often looked pretty amazing – though the light on the band themselves was rather limited, seeing them largely draped in shadow. Let’s face it though, the fact they’re on the stage at all is all the spectacle a Strokes show requires; and even after all these years there’s a vibe like you’re seeing the same show they would be playing in a dingy New York Club. It’s an aesthetic they’ve never lost; the darkness no doubt deliberate with that in mind.

Given the time between tours, the fact tonight was a mostly tight, but occasionally sloppy set, was hardly surprising. It’s that style that has always suited them. And though we may have liked a longer set, or a few more bells and whistles, this is only because a Strokes show is a rarity, and you want to savour every minute. And though the crowd was loving it, who knows whether the band are genuinely enjoying themselves. But as fireworks took the crowd home after Casablancas told the sold out audience he’d had an “incredible” night and thanked them for being there, there was definitely the impression that, at least tonight, they were…

SETLIST
Heart in a Cage
You Only Live Once
Ize of the World
The Modern Age
Hard to Explain
Happy Ending
Meet Me in the Bathroom
I Can’t Win
On the Other Side
Reptilia
New York City Cops
What Ever Happened?
12:51
A Little Respect (Erasure Cover)
Razorblade
Soma
Last Nite

Encore:
Is This It
Someday

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

However, more importantly, Albert Hammond Jr’s yellow suit was boss and gets five stars from me.

For more on The Strokes’ 2019 tour dates, head to their official website: http://thestrokes.com.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor of the AU review. You can find him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.