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Julian Casablancas shuns the spotlight… sort of

Julian Casablancas and The Voidz at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Nov. 12 2014. Kirk Chantraine photo.

Julian Casablancas and The Voidz at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Nov. 12 2014. Kirk Chantraine photo.

Photos – Julian Casablancas and The Voidz at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Nov. 12 2014.

– photos by Kirk Chantraine

Julian Casablancas and the Voidz make music that dudes can really dance to. And dance they did, last Wednesday night at the Commodore. The spastic mosh-jiving had begun even before former The Strokes‘ frontman lumbered on stage, and didn’t stop until after their hour-plus set had concluded.

The band looked like an amalgam of ’80s pop culture references including John Hughes circa The Breakfast Club – the grungy, greasy-shagged Casablancas was channeling delinquent Judd Nelson as Johnny Bender – and hair metal, courtesy of the the mullett-sporting and guitar-licking Jeramy Gritter. Combined with second guitarist Amir Yaghmai, bassist Jake Bercovici, speed demon drummer Alex Carapetis, and Jeff Kite on the keyboards, there was an awful lot of male energy on stage.

But what did all of that talent and testosterone add up to? At times it translated to a sound akin to if The Strokes scored an ’80s video game soundtrack, at others a high-speed metal thrash-fest. There was the odd groovy dance rock number and epic rock ballad.

Casablancas had grand ideas about the Voidz’ sound, but seemingly very little focus. Despite having only released one album thus far – September’s Tyranny LP – there was little cohesion or flow to the set except for the common thread of the singer’s distinctive hoarse, slurring fuzz-distorted vocals. Not that a single fan that filled the downtown venue seemed to notice or care. They happily moshed, boogied and when it was appropriate, crowd-surfed.

Review – Julian Casablancas at the Commodore Ballroom, 2009

Obscured vocals aside, there was evidence of the notoriously distant rocker’s aptitude for mystery in his hunkered stance and penchant for shunning the stage lights. Case in point: the performance began with every member of the band well-lit except for Casablanca’s microphone position. On the other hand, leading up to his first tour with the Voidz, the New York rocker had been extremely forthcoming with details about his opinions on everything from Twitter to brunch and details about his latest musical project. He even went so far as to post all of the album’s lyrics online (at cultrecords.com) in order to save his listeners the hassle of trying to decipher his muffled singing (a well-warranted decision since I couldn’t make out more than a few fragments of phrases the entire night). Clearly, he isn’t as opposed to the spotlight as it may at times seem.

You probably wouldn’t expect to be turned on by a slightly deranged, gap-toothed, dreadlocked and velvet-clad young man resembling Johnny Depp circa Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas and a group of musicians outfitted like circus monkeys. Nevertheless, New Zealand opener Connan Mockasin set the mood for a very different sort of dancing than his bro-rocking headliners. There was something vaguely sleazy about Mockasin and his elixir of groovy, mostly down-tempo psychedelia.

His was a set of the type of music that makes you feel sexy in a dirty way; like an awkward encounter after you’ve ingested a bottle of wine and possibly some other mind-altering substances or muscle relaxants, and been out in the sun too long. And while there was nothing quite so illicit going on in the Commodore audience, there were at least a few hot and bothered audience members and canoodling couples. Mockasin was the aloof, smirking kitschy centerpiece for his shirtless male band of drummer, guitarist and bassist. With the addition of keyboardist Sofia Karchi‘s panting vocals and wardrobe malfunctions (her red robe fell open to expose a lacy black bra several times throughout their set), the odd Kiwi rock band brought some welcome heat to an atypical below-zero Vancouver night.

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