The Strokes

Friday, November 16, at the Agora.

Contact / I Hate Hamlet Contact
Palace Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue. Through November 18. 216-771-4444

I Hate Hamlet
Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Avenue. Through December 2. 216-795-7000

Anyone who's visited a McDonald's knows that consumers prefer an experience that doesn't stray too far from a recognizable way of doing things. Sure, they'll forgo the Golden Arches for Arby's, buy roast beef instead of burgers, but only if everything else -- from the plastic tray it's served on to the pimply-faced kid who serves it -- remains the same. Record execs, of course, aren't any different. They, too, want sameness and predictability. So who can blame them for rolling out and hyping up a tasty product like the Strokes, the New York City boy band whose RCA debut is, by all accounts, as hot and cool as the two-compartment Styrofoam package that once contained the McDLT? With its self-deprecating, empty title and its perfectly coifed version of East Village bohemianism, Is This It could be a marketing tour de force à la Nirvana's Nevermind.

Is This It is that good -- it's too good, really; too well put together, too full of the kind of energetic, edgy pop invented by the Velvet Underground, refined by the Pixies, then imitated by thousands of indie rock bands with small names and small followings, like Spoon. The genius (and horror) of the Strokes is that they are to oft-deplored boy bands what Starbucks is to McDonald's -- a franchise that marries customer-friendly populism with just the right bit of elitism to make up for the fact that billions and billions are served. Like those boy bands, they've got the looks and compelling takes on boy-girl games. But rather than declassé, canned tracks that ask, "Girl, why didn't you page me?", they give a liner-note shout-out to Guided by Voices and write energetic pop that's a perfect accessory to the other lifestyle-enhancing products that find their way into the apartments of most white, city-dwelling twentysomethings. No doubt, they're going to be grand.

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