It’s been three years since The Strokes last played in the UK and over a decade since the iconic band performed in Manchester and although Julian Casablancas dropped his name from Virtue, the second album released by The Voidz earlier this year, make no mistake about it; the fans in Manchester tonight are here because of the New Yorker. “Julian! Julian! Julian!” they repeatedly shout out as the 9pm stage time extends to 9:15. Eventually the lights dim and we’re treated to an atmospheric electronic overture which morphs bizarrely into ‘Walk of Life’ by Dire Straits, eventually heralding the arrival of the band.
Opening track ‘Leave it in My Dreams’ is perhaps an acknowledgment of how most people have arrived at Julian Casablancas’ current project; it’s a melodious track full of the mellifluous guitar licks and oscillating vocals that The Strokes fans are so familiar with. Just like the wildly changeable stage lighting, there is colour to proceedings but it is enveloped in an inky darkness at times and the hue dramatically changes with ‘M.utually A.ssured D.estruction’. Cacophonous and monstrous in equal parts, it serves to highlight the Frankenstein nature of the band; a volatile harmony exists in the compound, created out of a discordant collection of ingredients and the driving ‘Crunch Punch’ emphasises the approach, mixing nightmarish vocals with dissonant synths and power chords.
Casablancas has always been a slightly reluctant icon and much of his performance is delivered from the shadows, but even he appears to be flattered by the attention of a young fan on the front rail, even extending his concern for her lack of ear protectors and he rewards her with an improvised composition which eventually contorts into the magnificent ‘QYURRYUS’. The track is a gloriously wacky highlight off the new album and illustrates the mercurial nature of the whole evening. Fusing a bhangra bed with driving 80s synths and vocoder vocals could have been a mad melange too far, but in Casablancas’ hands it is inspired.
‘Permanent High School’ is a return to the more orthodox musicality of Casablancas’ previous band but judging by the response to ‘Pyramid of Bones’, there is a new audience which he is catering for now. Guitarist Jeramy Gritter, appearing like an extra from a Rob Zombie splatter movie, sets the track up with an elaborate finger-tapped prelude which dramatically distorts into the song’s nu-metal power riff. This acts as the catalyst for the energetic crowd who feed of these serrated incisions and Sabbath-esque vocals. It’s dramatic and completely over the top but it is during these moments when the evening is an utterly absorbing success.
The second half of the evening doesn’t quite maintain the first half’s more compelling moments. ‘Pointlessness’ is frankly just a bit, well, you know. Thankfully, ‘Wink’ has a bit more offbeat charm about it, but songs like ‘One of the Ones’ and ‘Dare I Care’ seem to drift, occasionally blessed with intriguing passages of weirdness but the sum of all their parts is oddly not as fulfilling.
By the evening’s conclusion, there is a sense that The Voidz are a wonderfully unhinged experiment; there are traces of a former self in the more melodic moments and these are traversed by a polymorphic concoction which occasionally delights and sometimes, like the overblown encore ‘Human Sadness’ demonstrates, is just a bit too self-indulgent to be completely successful.