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Julian Casablancas + The Voidz — House of Blues, Boston 26/11/14

01 December 2014, 17:30 | Written by Ryan Thomas

The Voidz are, for all intents and purposes, not The Strokes. This may be a frustrating pill to swallow for some (one guy in particular). For Julian Casablancas, it’s a respite. At least judging by his performance at the House of Blues Boston on Wednesday.

Take this as conjectured speculation from an unwavering fan, whose trusted Casablancas’ creative instincts through every Strokes album (including Angles and Comedown Machine), his 80s-pop homage of a solo album Phrazes for the Young, and every one-off collaboration with Daft Punk, Danger Mouse, Lonely Island, Queens of the Stone Age, etc. Julian Casablancas is a master of both his inconspicuous influences and a hyper-clean/catchy pop melody, wherever he chooses to lodge them.

With the Voidz, however, he’s not leaning on complacency or past example. He’s not going for obvious chronology. He’s doing something completely different. And in that way, Tyranny is much more Monty Python’s Flying Circus than it is a hyper-refined distillation of Cyndi Lauper or Flock of Seagulls as his solo debut might have led you to expect from his second solo venture.

One thing that is retained: aesthetic. The Voidz, as part of Julian’s Cult Records label, dress the part of Julian’s visual brand of the Warriors-meets-Urban Outfitters in Troma-style Retro-Scope. The music fits the theme by occupying the equivocal era’s attitudinal thrashpunk and affinity for analog synthetics.

But more than anything, what’s felt most tangibly in Julian’s work with this new outfit, is a sensation of unabashed looseness. A freedom to do whatever the fuck he wants, without the pressures and trappings the success of his former band can’t help but present. Hear him now:

“Who let the fucking dogs out? That’s what I want to know…” Julian says during one of his many glorious stage-rants. His sobriety is unlikely, given the beer-runners who set up plastic cups with an equal sense of importance as the level-checkers at the start of the show.

The first song is “Xerox,” to which’s warped dream-like synth loops, two-note bass groove, and syncopated drums, the band enters in a state of weirdness. The Voidz are a five-piece: a shaggy keyboardist (and sometimes third guitar), a bassist (who wears sunglasses and a studded leather jacket), a guitarist who looks and assumes the part of hair metal guitar technician, another guitarist who wears a Hawaiian shirt and sports a Sergio Aragone-ish mustache, and finally the drummer—who is integral to the intense and heavily-textured rhythms of each song.

And then there’s Julian. He is obviously the star of the show. As is why his name appears before the Voidz, connected by a not entirely ego-removed plus sign. Then again, if it weren’t completely obvious this was Julian’s project, his cult might not have found their way out to see him tonight, in spite of shitty Boston weather.

Julian struts on the stage moments before his familiar vocal apathy is required by the song at hand. Everyone goes near-nuts at the sight of him. His voice makes it a certainty. Everyone wants a piece of this man (which they ultimately get during the show closer, when Julian goes into the crowd and is greeted by a sudden growth of eager hands). He handles his adoration gracefully, like someone with 15 years experience.

Julian is concealed by perfect darkness for what seems like 99% of the show. Even still, from undercover of the darkness, his sleeveless denim and in-between-washdays endearing black mop can be clearly made out. His impassioned snear constant, occasionally illuminated by red strobes during angrier numbers such as “M.utually A.ssured D.estruction,” a song as brooding mad as its literal title. Drums crash away like a bat out of punk hell. Guitars are dissonant and angular. The song builds and shifts with an almost campy sinister tone. It’s harsh and melodically dark, words you could never apply to the Strokes.

But for as much as this is not a Strokes show, Julian doesn’t feign not to know that 100% of the crowd are Strokes fans, and likely the only reason this room is so packed. So the band does a dutiful cover of the Strokes’ “ Ize of the World” from First Impressions of Earth. Julian introduces it as a cover, because it is one. For as much as he is the melodic mastermind of the band, he doesn’t claim any of the songs as personally his.

What he can claim as completely his is his 2009 solo album Phrazes for the Young, from which he + Voidz plays only one song (“Riverflow of Breaklights”). With this exception, what’s clear is that his works with the Voidz - as was true of the Strokes pre- their bankable success - is a group effort. His ego remains more or less submerged beneath what sounds they produce as a sum of parts. And for that, fans may be disappointed to not hear Julian’s contributions on the forefront of the new material—a sharp derision from all work preceding.

“I don’t even know what that was,” one frazzled attendee feels the need to vent on the way out of the venue. “I feel like a joke was played on me.” He says Is This It? and Room on Fire are in his top albums of all time, and he was happy to hear a Strokes song performed, but overall says, “That was a fucking circus.” Not everyone likes change.

Maybe this is a phase. Maybe the Voidz, with their unpolished exploratory yearnings, are just an escape from the sheer purity of sound legally required of the Strokes for the endless amounts of money (and flack) they receive. Maybe just listen, and see what else this guy does. Maybe just be a fan of interesting possibilities as opposed to reductive expectations. That’s what I hear tonight: a challenge. Accept it and move around a lot.

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