|Photo: Andy Hughes/NME|
When I woke up on Sunday morning, I really expected it to feel like Christmas. I wanted the butterflies, the excitement, the irrational need to get to my presents so I could tear off the wrapping paper and finally play with them. But when I woke up that morning, it was at 6:30am and I felt like crap. A huge head and chest cold had hit me like a train overnight, and I just wanted to fall straight back to sleep for another 14 hours. The thought of a trip to London on a busy train, and then a walk in the chilly December night air within a fast-paced city full of irritated commuters, made me want to weep – gently so I didn’t hurt my head, of course. But it was for Julian Casablancas, who wrote ‘Hard To Explain’, which is basically my favourite song of all time, so I used the very limited willpower I possess to drag myself out of bed and get myself ready to go.
Arriving at Elephant & Castle on the bus, even in the dark, The Coronet is a giant blue box of visibility. The queue was minimal by this point, because we turned up a little late knowing I would have to stand at the back anyway as I was ill, and we got into the arena swiftly, choosing to remain on the balcony behind the crowd. The space was amazing, with a bar at one end and the stage at the other, it was both spacious and intimate, with good, though not excellent acoustics.
Support King Tuff & his band brought with them a trucker-rock energy that infused the venue. The vocals clearly influenced very strongly by Lou Reed, which was off-putting at points, but redeemed by a few cool guitar solos and not much else. Something I have found in my few gig-going years is that when a band sounds great live, and not so great on track, it’s probably because their music is quite rubbish. This is something that’s certainly true of King Tuff. Though they undeniably had a great stage presence and connection with the crowd, their music leaves a lot to be desired, with only one track standing out as particularly good.
TV sets littered the stage, their screens a throwback to the days of brightly coloured columns and white noise. Every time the speakers died down during the pre-JC line check, the crowd surged forward in anticipation, until finally the stage lights dimmed and the band proudly walked on to take their places, Julian creeping in behind them like a cartoon character burglar, dressed in his current staple outfit: a t-shirt paired with a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off. A misleading intro eventually led into a performance of JC and Daft Punk hit, Instant Crush, Julian’s fast-paced falsetto sending the already energetic crowd into a frenzy.
The band played incredibly well together, with every seemingly chaotic section of noise perfectly interacting with its counterparts, and Julian’s voice reaching the ambitious notes just as well live as on the album. His attitude on stage is playful, but in some ways, this is a sign of the mellowness of his lifestyle – early performances with The Strokes saw him zoned out from his surroundings, lyrically apathetic and exemplary of the angst that accompanies youth. Now, it feels like he cares for his audience, gently saying ‘Not tonight, princess’ as a crowd member requests a song. It also appears that he is enjoying a step away from the limelight, as he physically steps into the shadows during the parts of some songs that his vocals are void from. Yes, that was a pun.
‘M.utually A.ssured D.estruction’, ‘Human Sadness’, ‘Ize of the World’ and the beautifully uncomplicated rendition of Strokes demo ‘I’ll Try Anything Once’ were the stars of the show, with intermittent light strobing, some incredibly cool effects on Julian’s vocals, and one very special mullet. All in all, it was definitely a night to remember, and I feel privileged to have experienced it.