Review: The Strokes at Lytham Festival

The Converse got a final outing before meeting their leafy grave

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Some residents of Lytham, the Fylde Coast town that prides itself on being, well, leafy, will no doubt be pleased that the hoardings around its prized green are finally coming down to restore their view of the Ribble Estuary. At around midnight one night last week, one local had the “most horrendous experience” of witnessing “youths” urinating on his California lilac evergreen shrubs. Tim Lime reportedly took to a local Facebook chat page to admonish the lads, he assumed to be “from Blackpool or parts of St Annes from the behaviour”. He was “so angry”.

But people travelled from far and wide to visit his hometown this month – battling through the traffic, and navigating the insufficient public transport and cab ranks. Lytham certainly doesn’t have the infrastructure for a music event of the size it hosted this month, but it was worth the effort to get to. And plenty of other residents – many of whom were given complimentary tickets – were sad to see the stage, which hosted everyone from Duran Duran to Diana Ross over 10 days, come down.

After Covid cancellations 2022 was a bumper year for Lytham Festival, which has come a long way from its beginnings as a proms-style event with local brass bands. It’s still fiercely local and independent, organised by North West promoters (Dan) Cuff & (Peter) Taylor, but it punched well above its weight this year.

A coup for the 10-day festival was US indie icons – and original purveyors of knackered Converse – The Strokes, who headlined the second Friday of the festival (8 July). Many of the festival’s headliners were nostalgia acts – Nile Rodgers and Chic, Simply Red, Paul Weller – and whether The Strokes fall into that category just yet was hard to tell among the 20,000-strong crowd that contained as many former indie kids as it did “youths”. Some of the latter will undoubtedly have been drawn in by the strong support line-up, which included Isle of White duo Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, aka Wet Leg, whose millennial apathy-laden alt pop tunes drew an early crowd away from the food concessions (varied but predictably pricey) and bars (surprisingly reasonable for a beer at least). Viral song Chaise Lounge – “Excuse me… what? – had the crowd singing along to every arch lyric.

The smouldering punk spirit was fanned into flames by Irish post-punk five piece Fontaines DC, who are coolly treading a line between cult darlings and huge commercial success with their new album Skinty Fia. Their intense set ran through the best of it, with rewards from the high-energy crowd, while brooding moments were given full and due attention. When frontman Grian Chatten revealed his own Northern connection – his grandfather, Ronnie Stevens, was former football captain of Vickers Sports Club and died last year – the crowd, touchingly but not unamusingly, chanted back at him “Barrow! Barrow! Barrow!”

Midway through the set the frontman homed in on one crowd member, a girl holding a sign reading “Can I sing Ode to The Mets with you?”

It was clear The Strokes didn’t have any such local connection, and frontman Julian Casablancas was evidently as confused as Diana Ross must surely have been on the same stage a few nights before (fresh from her Glastonbury set). He admitted he didn’t have a clue about the town or its relationship to the surrounding areas (notably after boos when he referenced being in Blackpool – Tim and his mates, I assume). After opening the set with a lacklustre rendition of their 2001 album title track Is This It, the band worked their way through their back catalogue and material from their last full-length album (and their first in seven years), 2020s The New Abnormal.

Hits including Someday, Hard to Explain, Juicebox and New York City Cops were crowd pleasers, but Casblancas failed to meet the crowd’s or his bandmates’ energy with his quiet and half-hearted delivery. Sarcastic interjections between songs did little to endear him to the waning crowd and, although still undeniably cool, some of his behaviour definitely was not. Midway through the set the frontman homed in on one crowd member, a girl holding a sign reading “Can I sing Ode to The Mets with you?” Casablancas duly brought her up on stage, but her Dave (ft. Alex) at Glastonbury moment it was not. While the grime artist gave his diehard fan words of gentle encouragement and chanted his lyrics along with him (Alex left “fuckin’ buzzin”), Casablancas left his fan to it while he stood at the side of the stage in judgement. She did a fine job, but afterward Casablancas did his best Simon Cowell impression and gave her a bad review. Thankfully drummer Fabrizio Moretti stepped in to tell her she was “fucking awesome!”, to which Casablancas commented he must be playing Paula Abdul.

To add to the arsey nature of The Strokes’ set, they didn’t play Last Nite – undoubtedly their biggest hit, which is no doubt why they chose to avoid it. But for fans of a band that hasn’t turned out consistently good material since its glory days, this is the stuff they show up for. And at £50-plus a ticket they should give it to them, damnit.

Thankfully, Reptillia and You Only Live Once are a close second and third and, along with the brilliant support acts, made it worth seeing The Strokes live one – let’s face it – final time. They probably are a nostalgia act now, though not one you can count on for warm feels. The Converse are shredded to bits – dumped, on the way out, in Tim Lime’s California lilac evergreen shrubs.

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