The Strokes, Academy, Birmingham<br></br>Jewel, Royal Festival Hall, London

Waiting for my man (from a Swiss boarding school)
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The Independent Culture

Warhol himself couldn't have done a better job. There's a compilation album out at the moment called Pop Art, collecting music of, and germane to, the Andy Warhol era (Velvet Underground, Stooges, Patti Smith, etc). The press release to accompany it coyly asserts its contemporary relevance by suggesting that one or two of these records may appear in The Strokes' collections.

The fact is, however, that in one important respect, The Strokes are even better than the real thing. With the exception of John Cale, the original Velvet Underground all had faces like half-chewed plasticine, but The Strokes are five different archetypes of male attractiveness: one aristocratic squarejaw, one authentic-looking New Wave bloke, two stubbly Jew-fros and a classic pretty boy up front.

This, no doubt, explains the fact that after just two songs, one girl is already being dragged supine from the crush barriers and stretchered into a St John Ambulance: the way the sleepy-lidded, slack-lipped Julian Casablancas half-swaggers, half-saunters about the stage is too much for her to take.

It isn't just the females who are under his spell. The Strokes caused an overnight fashion revolution last summer, persuading every indie rock bloke in Britain to ditch his T-shirt and jeans and get into a shirt and tie (The Hives later made a slight amendment, properly fastening the tie and doing up the top button).

If I'm only talking about The Strokes in terms of the visual image, there's a reason. As you might expect from a band whose main protagonists are, respectively, the son of the founder of the world's biggest modelling agency and the son of the man who wrote "The Air That I Breathe", and who met at a Swiss boarding school, they have no burning message to bring to the world.

In classic rock-crit terms, The Strokes are utterly without "substance" (which perhaps explains the absence of a lyric sheet on the album and the distorting effect which makes Casablancas' vocals so indistinct). In Warholian terms, however, this is no problem: The Strokes don't create art, they are the work of art.

If The Strokes were a novel, they'd be (Bret Easton Ellis's) Less Than Zero. If they convey anything, it's ennui, a condition so inherent to the upper classes that it had to have a French name. If The Strokes are about anything, it's a vague feeling of youthful displacement, of adolescent awkwardness ("I say the right things but act the wrong way"), of not really knowing what you're there for – a feeling which is, by definition, "hard to explain".

Success has caught The Strokes by surprise – Best Newcomer at The Brits, three Brats, a Number One album and a still-rolling avalanche of hype – and they only have three new songs to show for a year of activity (when you have nothing much to say, words don't come easy). Casablancas says – admirably – that it will take two years to write the follow-up to Is This It, because he doesn't want to write an album about life on the road. They begin with one of these new numbers, a possibly cocaine-related song with the chorus "meet me in the bathroom, she said", and another, a weird oompah reggae number which goes "I never needed anybody", follows later.

Perhaps surprisingly, we do get "New York City Cops", the song hastily pulled from the American version of their album in the wake of 11 September and replaced by "When It Started" (the third new-ish song we hear tonight), the band presumably having decided – correctly – that we Brits are less easily offended/less prissy than US audiences. Then again, when your repertoire is as modest as The Strokes's, you can hardly afford to drop your best songs.

Within their self-imposed limits – simple riffs constructed from two-note thirds, taut, linear basslines – The Strokes are close to immaculate tonight, although the haphazard way in which they speed up and slow down suggests a varied intake of pre-show refreshments (we are, at least, spared the half-speed dirge version of "Last Nite" they performed at The Brits), and Casablancas' peculiar warble is becoming alarmingly reminiscent of Mungo Jerry (you constantly feel he's only a couple of mutton chops shy of covering "In The Summertime").

As they shudder through the closing "Take It Or Leave It", the strobelight pins their shadows against the backdrop in sharp black and white, and you have this odd feeling you've seen this view – this VU – before. Andy would have loved them.

My knowledge of the mineral wealth of Alaska doesn't stretch to knowing whether or not it contains iron pyrite, but when Jewel headed south from the Arctic Circle, we were sold fool's gold. When Ms Kilcher first popped up on This Morning With Richard & Judy all those years ago, her whole USP – delicate young thing from the frozen wastes with a marketable "nice T&A" factor – was deeply suspect (especially when you learnt that she grew up in California). And to find her now, at the age of 27, still singing lines like "I'm half-woman but I'm still half a child" is faintly depressing.

Tonight, as is the vogue with country-tinged mainstream singers (Ryan Adams also did it recently), she is her own support act, playing an acoustic set first, a band set second. She clearly has a devoted constituency (one man, who goes to every show and has a home-made book of her lyrics, is invited onstage, and I find him slightly scary). She can sing – her range incorporating an alarming Streisand boom to go with her sweet Lauper tweet – and she can play. The wood-carved worthiness of her material is leavened by a streak of self-deprecating humour (she makes fun of Kylie and Destiny's Child on The Brits, and refers to her show as "my evening of narcissism"). You suspect she'd be a laugh down the pub. As long as she left her guitar back in Anchorage.

s.price@independent.co.uk

The Strokes are on a world tour and will be visiting the UK on the following dates: Barrowlands, Glasgow (0141 552 4601), 22 March; Corn Exchange, Edinburgh (0141 339 8383), 23 March; Apollo, Manchester (0161 242 2560), 25 March; Corn Exchange, Cambridge (01223 357851), 26 March; Brixton Academy, London SW9 (020 7771 2000), 28 & 29 March. Jewel plays the Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (020 7589 8212) on 27 & 28 May

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