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last night's gig

The Strokes Play the Met!

It was probably the world's worst-kept secret that the Strokes would be the surprise musical guests at Tommy Hilfiger's 25th-anniversary bash at the Metropolitan Opera house tonight. But no amount of advance notice could have prepared us for the joy we felt the second those familiar chords, and Julian Casablancas's gravely, unintelligible vocals, blasted through the air, bouncing off the Met's storied Swarovski chandeliers.

The setup was as if Terminal 5 had been made over with red carpeting and crystals, and filled with preppy male models and women in Louboutins. The Strokes played with their backs to the wall of windows on the terrace level (where opera patrons mill and get their drinks during intermission). A huge crowd filled that level, along with the grand entrance steps and the two balconies leading into the opera hall. The acoustics, naturally, were astonishing. So good, in fact, that a crowd of lucky passersby gathered in the Lincoln Center plaza and were treated to sound nearly as good as the sound inside.

After a brief intro by Tommy Hilfiger and a lot of tuning of instruments, the band simply began to play. We were a millisecond late and got there just as they'd finished "NYC Cops" and were starting "Hard to Explain." Neil Patrick Harris, the Gossip Girl cast, Russell and Kimora Simmons, and Jennifer Lopez were there, but they weren't part of the enthusiastic dance party on the Met steps, so forget them.

"What is up? It's been my dream since I was a little boy to play the Metropolitan Opera. You only live once," said Julian, who was wearing his usual black leather along with a hilariously incongruous white baseball cap with a big red star that may or may not have been Hilfiger. They played "You Only Live Once" and Julian threw down his mike stand, then "Reptilia" (or so we think — we were kind of in a state of ecstasy at this point) to a scream of feedback so loud Albert Hammond Jr. covered his ears (and his new close-cropped haircut) with his hands.

With the exception of said haircut, they looked and sounded just like the Strokes you remember. Old favorites "Last Night" and "Someday" inspired screams and jumping near us, but while the rest of the crowd seemed to be into it, they were definitely trying to stay fashionably cool and collected, which is so not the point of seeing the Strokes play the Metropolitan Opera. As far as we could tell, the band played no new songs. They finished with "Juicebox" and the usual Julian head-bow and wave. "Thanks," he said, walking offstage. "We had fun." Yeah, we did, too.

Photo: Twitpic