Julian Casablancas, The Forum, London

Five heads are better than one
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The Independent Culture

Considering the Strokes have been written off for much of the decade as a band that have supposedly failed to live up to their early promise, 2009 is turning out to be not a bad year for Julian Casablancas.

The rush of "Best of" lists that have greeted the end of the Noughties have prompted a reminder of the impact that the New York quintet's debut, Is This It, had back in 2001, whilst Casablancas' solo foray has been greeted more favourably than his group's largely underrated last two albums, Room on Fire and First Impressions of Earth.

In all honesty Casablancas' Phrazes for the Young – released last month – is not a great departure musically from his day job, and when the man himself takes to the stage for "11th Dimension" wearing a leather jacket and white sneakers, he is as effortlessly cool as when he first graced the pages of NME.

The band behind him, of course, is different, and live it is not a particularly positive change. The Strokes, at their best, have always been a tight group of musicians, whereas tonight Casablancas' band totals six (not including himself), two of whom are often on percussion. The result is that for many of the songs they end up drowning out the vocals, producing a lot of noise and very little subtlety.

It is not all bad – the twin drummers really drive "Out of the Blue" forwards and thankfully they give the slow-building "4 Chords of the Apocalypse" room to breathe – but it is no coincidence that the highlight comes when they all leave the stage, bar Casablancas and one keyboardist, who together perform "I'll Try Anything Once". A Strokes B-side that ended up in a different form as "You Only Live Once" on their third album, the sparse accompaniment allows Casablancas' distinctive croon to enchant the crowd.

There is another treat in the encore when Casablancas decides to get in the festive spirit and make a contribution to the Christmas song genre, a cover of Saturday Night Live's "I Wish It Was Christmas Today".

As he leaves the stage, it is hard to shake the feeling that this is anything more than a taster for the return of the Strokes; but if Casablancas can continue on this form once back with his old bandmates, 2010 could be another bright year.