THE STROKES at Ricoh Coliseum (100 Exhibition Place), Saturday (May 6). $47.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
By now, it feels as though the Strokes have become characters in their own movie. In the starring role is reluctant frontman Julian Casablancas, the brooding, baby-faced singer with the 3 am voice. Supporting is Nick Valensi, youngest and most enthusiastic, who channels Keith Richards via oversized dress shirts and silk scarves, slinging his guitar appropriately low.
Afro'd Albert Hammond Jr., born in L.A., looks like a rougher version of Billy Joel on the cover of 52nd Street. Drummer Fabrizio Moretti is in love, as any reader of People or Us can tell you, with Tom Green's ex-wife, so that could account for his cheerfulness, personally and musically.
And then there's bassist Nikolai Fraiture. Tall, stoic and quiet (a bassist tradition), he's reputed to be the least talkative member, which doesn't bode well for interview purposes.
"Yes, I am known for that," confirms a sleepy-sounding Fraiture, calling from the Strokes' Manhattan management office. "I can be kind of quiet, but it's mostly in the context of the media and being in the Strokes. As you can see, I do talk."
Just because he's the silent type, don't assume Fraiture isn't important to the Strokes' story. It was a 13-year-old Fraiture who skipped over to his private school classmate Casablancas's Upper East Side digs with a Velvet Underground record tucked under his arm, bestowed on him by an older brother.
Roughly seven years later, when the band's explosive debut took on a shaken, post-World Trade Center world, they carried an enviable aura of youthful innocence and us-against-them camaraderie. Barely out of their teens, they were a social unit who'd been given a golden ticket to the postponement of adulthood.
Learning their instruments while touring the world, they earned both accolades as retro-reviving rock saviours, successors to their New York, new wave heroes, and damning accusations that they were boarding school trustafarian poseurs.
Dark clouds loomed on the band's horizon. Casablancas's black moods and recalcitrant handling of the white-hot spotlight became frequent. He punched out a label rep in Paris and tried kissing reporter Neil Strauss, according to the notorious Rolling Stone cover story, which the band hates.
To this day, insiders say the band works as a democracy under the dictatorship of Casablancas, who is the group's principal songwriter.
"At times Julian can be difficult," allows Fraiture, "but it's not so black-and-white or so cut-and-dried. It just depends on the day, the mood, what's been going on in the band."
Soon after their undercooked sophomore release, Room On Fire, Casablancas decided, in an attempt to avoid self-destruction, to give up drinking, a problem he's been battling since he was 14. He even tied the knot with a woman named Juliet Joslin, one of the band's assistants, further anchoring his life.
That started a settling-down chain reaction within the group. Valensi, Hammond and Moretti are all shacked up in serious relationships now, while Fraiture has since married his long-time girlfriend, with whom he recently had a child.
"Our wild, crazy days are behind us," says Fraiture without a hint of regret. "We needed a break from that life or the band wouldn't really last."
Given the heaped expectations and pressure still lingering from Is This It, coupled with Casablancas's volatility, an implosion was always a possibility. However, they've survived long enough to record an accomplished new album called First Impression Of Earth.
Sounding laboured (in a good way), Casablancas's vocals are more pronounced compared to the drive-thru- speaker-box effect he often loves to hide behind. Valensi flashes moments of Richards-like virtuosity, and Moretti's beats are less straightforward in underpinning Casablancas's usual sardonic, world-weary lyrics.
Their aching self-consciousness has apparently eased, and they no longer have to fear being one-hit wonders. Perhaps there's even some degree of comfort in knowing that microscopic scrutiny of their every musical endeavour isn't necessarily bad for this ongoing tale.
"I think that's the ideal place for a band to be," says Fraiture, "for people to want to actually hear the next album. But it's a double-edged sword: on one hand we're very grateful for the attention; on the other we don't really know what to do with it. It's kind of hard to make sense of that much hype, especially when a band is just beginning."