The Strokes at St James, Auckland

By Rebecca Barry Hill, Reviewed by Rebecca Barry

Here's a theory: Julian Casablancas is painfully shy. The Strokes singer is his usual tipsy self as he swaggers on stage in leather, mumbles like the Fonz and, later, dives into the crowd as girls fall over themselves to touch him.

But perhaps he's not as cocky as he appears. When he hits the high, raspy notes on Juicebox - the night's rocking opener from album First Impressions of Earth - his knees are buckled, his eyes are shut and he's somewhere else.

Between songs he turns and faces the drumkit. And there's a telling line on Ask Me Anything, a tongue-in-cheek ballad he performs with guitarist Nick Valensi on keyboards, where he whimpers: "Wish I wasn't so shy."

Not that it matters. After five years, three albums and more hype than most bands get in their whole careers, the Strokes remain as cool and detached as a haughty supermodel, as engaging and exhilarating as a vodka shot. That seems to be Casablancas' medicine, anyway.

Naturally for a Tuesday night, the air isn't as electric as Friday's Arctic Monkeys gig, nor does it feel as dangerous as the Strokes' drunken Big Day Out set. During the chugging pop chorus of Last Nite, their appeal is more'60s boy band than art-rock phenomenon.

But you can't fault their chemistry. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr strums as if having an epileptic fit and bassist Nikolai Fraiture is still as a statue, Valensi paces as his fingers hurtle over the frets and Fab Moretti looks almost too relaxed for that impeccable timing. Their live experience is palpable, particularly on songs from first album Is This It, where they come together like one pulsing rhythm section; on newer songs Ize of the World and Electricityscape, the dynamics would put most rock bands their age to shame.

Only during a distorted version of 12:51 does the train threaten to derail.

Then just when the floorboards are shuddering, lights pulsing, guitars screaming, they stop.

This is how they finish: no drawn-out solos, no verbal warning, no fancy effects. The lights simply go out and they saunter off. Most bands would appear rude. For the Strokes, it's just another stylishly timed exit. The last song in the encore? Take It Or Leave It.

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