Spaceland’s Monday-night shows in Los Angeles usually attract 50 music nerds with indie-rock guts hidden behind corduroy jackets. But last night the club was packed with a shiny West-Side-of-L.A. crowd dressed like extras from a road production of The Last Temptation of Christ. An unannounced band went on at 10 p.m. The lead singer mumbled, “Hello, we’re Silversun Pickups,” and the group started playing what sounded like a blend of ersatz Strokes and nineties Brit-supergroup Electronic. The lead singer had a mop of curly hair and a languid, louche quality to his singing and stage presence that seemed to borrow heavily from Julian Casablancas.
Turns out it was Julian Casablancas. His solo album was arriving in the morning and he was taking his new band out for a spin. They played six of the eight tracks from the infectious and inscrutable Phrazes for the Young. Casablancas was his usual beautiful, inaccessible self. Stage patter was limited to “You guys are totally rad” and a few shy nods to the crowd. He waved good-bye and stepped behind the curtain into Spaceland’s microscopic backstage. You couldn’t help but think Casablancas was entering the Evan Dando/Alex Chilton stage of his career, where unrealized commercial stardom slides into a thirtysomething “now what?” twilight zone.
But while both Chilton and Dando slipped into drug-addled incoherence — the latter hauled a slab of concrete from Ground Zero to his shows for a while — Casablancas looked fine and happy. He lives part of the year in Silverlake now, and after the show he moved through the chain-smoking crowd unmolested, resplendent in a full-length leather jacket and an optic-orange vest. He shook the hand of one of his musicians and said, “So, uh, we’re gonna meet you at the thing, right?”
Casablancas then slid behind the wheel of an Oldsmobile parked at the curb. He started to move the car, but then waited for someone to remove an orange pylon. No one did. The almost-rock-icon jumped out and moved it himself. He then got back in the car and drove away, a boyish, triumphant smile on his face.