Music Video Throwback – The Strokes

I love music videos. I used to watch them frequently and discovered a lot of great music doing so. I have decided that every now and then I will post about an interesting video to recall those times. Today's entry comes from the Strokes.

Perhaps it is because of the announcement that the Strokes will be releasing a new album on March 22 (Angles) that I have been on Strokes kick lately. I have been listening to their first album in particular and I still love it just as much now as I did then, though I can't help thinking the ten years since the release of Is This It? have brought a lot of changes to music. I'm not sure what the future holds for the Strokes – five years since their last album is a long time – but I do know that in rewatching the video for "Last Nite," the band's origins remain a compelling force.

A big reason why I was and still am captivated by this song musically is how it builds, from the simple repeated guitar chord and drum beat which hook me deeply to the verses when Julian starts singing and the whole band gets involved. I like that in the video, the band largely remains in darkness as the song gets going, emphasizing the music and this build, culminating with the lights coming on as the song launches.

The video also makes it quickly apparent that the Strokes arrived with a fully formed aesthetic. Their sound and their look are perfectly matched and both reinforce the overall image of the detached hipness, the fuzzy charm, the effortless cool of these five men in their early twenties. They just look completely in control, yet without seeming to expend any effort. Also, there is a strong retro vibe of the set – sort of a bare bones, Ed Sullivan kind of stage – that is perfectly in keeping with their retro sound.

What I find interesting about this video is that unlike the vast majority of music videos released over the history of the form, the sound of this one is recorded live. At first it is difficult to tell – which is a testament to the Strokes ability to recreate their sound live very well I suppose – but it becomes clear as the video progresses. The giveaways of this provide some of my favorite moments. For instance, Albert Hammond Jr, the guitarist on the right side, knocks over one of drummer Fabrizio Moretti mic stands. When he picks it back up, he stops playing momentarily and the cut of the sound is clear. Right around this time, Julian adlibs the line "And me, I ain't ever going to understand that shit" which gets edited of course, but is still discernible. Finally, and probably my favorite, is when Fabrizio counts out a quick four beats on the mic stand and knocks it over. I think these little moments make the video feel more authentic and vibrant, as opposed to a bloodless lip sync, pantomime performance.

There is not a lot to this video but that's the point. I like it as an introduction to a band that was very important in the early 2000s and also as a performance of a great song that retains its raw power but gains some shading with the spontaneity of live performance. The Strokes made several other memorable videos ("Someday" involves playing Family Feud with Guided by Voices, "12:51" is very TRON, "Reptilia" has cool split screens, and "Juicebox" features David Cross as an inane radio DJ) yet this will always be my favorite. I expect to continue playing their previous albums and look forward to their upcoming release.