A few years back, GQ magazine ran a feature headlined “The fifteen-year decline of the Strokes”, outlining the ways the New York quintet had disappointed since their 2001 debut album, Is This It. Perhaps that trajectory was inevitable: having achieved pretty much everything they could have hoped with their first statement, where could they have gone? The slight air that being the Strokes has never been strictly necessary to them – they were all born into wealth, and the relative paucity of the live shows and infrequency of albums suggests they don’t need to keep working to keep the heating on – is reinforced by an incident partway through this show.
After a terrific run through You Only Live Once, a song plucked from the place where classic rock bumped up against new wave, Julian Casablancas starts singing something unrecognisable. Albert Hammond Jr joins in on guitar, and gradually the other three try to work out something to do. It doesn’t seem to be a song from the forthcoming new album, The New Abnormal, given that three of the band are barely playing it, but in an example of work-to-rule that would have impressed a 1970s trade unionist, the band count it as one of their 15 songs for the evening, leave the stage one song before the end of the written setlist, and drop The Modern Age from the encore.
The two actual new songs played, though, are glorious. The Adults Are Talking begins, like some relic of an early 80s John Peel show, with skeletal drum machine and guitars so spindly that they seem barely able to support themselves, then builds until the guitars interlock like electrical currents tickling each other into life. Bad Decision is gloriously and expansively melancholy, camped halfway between Blondie’s Union City Blue and Generation X’s Dancing With Myself (Billy Idol and Tony James have been given a songwriting credit).
Inevitably, though, it’s the four songs from Is This It that set the crowd alight, even if the dancefloor is too packed for much in the way of movement. And you realise just how odd a proposition they really were: guitars so trebly they could pierce ice, Casablancas’s voice a dishevelled slur. There’s been greatness since, too. It hasn’t all been a 15-year decline.
• At Waterfront Hall, Belfast, on 24 February. Then touring in the US.