Hyde Park will become a live music mecca for the next fortnight as Taylor Swift, Kylie, Blur and The Who come to west London for a series of Barclaycard Presents British Summertime megashows.
Kicking things off last night were New York indie denizens The Strokes. Julian Casablancas and co single-handedly revived the garage-rock genre in the early Noughties with their era-defining debut, Is This It. Without them, there’d be no Libertines or Arctic Monkeys, while sales of skinny jeans would have taken a serious hit.
Still, there’s been a feeling of late that being in The Strokes has become something of a drag: they no longer bother with interviews and last night’s show was their first in the capital for five years.
Like a mini London, the crowd was divided between the have and the have-nots. The well-connected, which included Stella McCartney and Chris Martin, were in the VIP section at the front; steerage were kept 100 yards back near the big screens and burger vans. As a result, the atmosphere suffered.
Fortunately the sound, often a sticking point in Hyde Park where high-powered local residents insist that volume levels be kept to the bare minimum, came through loud and clear.
An opening salvo of Is This It and Barely Legal – both from The Strokes’ 2001 debut – announced the band’s crowd-pleasing intentions. However, it was newer track One Way Trigger, which pinched the keyboard riff from A-Ha’s Take On Me and saw Casablancas offer up some gonad-defying high notes, that offered a moment of real musical adventure.
If the low-strung indie of Someday and riotous punk-rock Last Nite were reminders of how vital the band sounded on their debut, they were also evidence of how lacklustre they’ve often sounded since.
In many ways, support act Beck was better. The musical chameleon was on suitably shape-shifting form, pinballing from grungy self-hatred on Loser to Prince-like crooning on the baby-making funk of Debra.
If Beck is pop music’s ultimate free spirit, The Strokes still seem to be prisoners of their past: unexcited by they’ve done but unwilling to offer a satisfactory alternative.