By: Rita Plante
As soon as I heard that The Strokes would be coming to NYC for New Year’s Eve AND it had general admission, I knew I was going to be there and I was going to be front row, despite absolutely not having the funds to do so. The Strokes are one of the few bands that I consider to have defined my taste in music growing up and they were one of the top bands on my concert bucket list, so there was no way I could miss this.
This New Year’s Eve show was not originally supposed to happen. For the past year, The Strokes have been exclusively playing festivals, not arenas. They were only supposed to come to New York once this year to headline day three of Governor’s Ball.
However, Mother Nature had other plans. Torrential downpours flooded Randall’s Island causing day three to be cancelled, but not before doors opened and fans began to wait at the main stage for The Strokes. People were outraged, thinking they missed their only opportunity to see The Strokes this year. So, in attempt to make things right, the band added a New Year’s Eve show in New York City and gave priority pre-sale codes to Governor’s Ball ticket holders.
Before I get into the story about what went down at the show, I have to preface this with a little history about my unconventional concert-going habits. For the past year and a half I have been averaging about one concert every two weeks. Every single one has been general admission and I have been front row to all of them. I do this by waiting outside the venues for hours upon hours to ensure that I will be one of the first people let onto the floor. Most of the time it’s pretty easy, just time consuming, but at large arena shows it is particularly difficult due to factors like VIP ticket holders, multiple entrances, insane people who wait outside for days, etc. So, in order to ease my stress, I decided to purchase the VIP upgrade for this show. The VIP upgrade was advertised to include early entrance into the venue and a poster.
Okay, so on to the big day. Despite having a VIP ticket, which ensured entrance into the venue before general admission ticket holders, I still arrived at the venue at 9:00am to further secure the fact that I will be first onto the floor. My friend Morgan, whom I met at a concert in June, and I hunkered down in front of the Barclays Center with multiple blankets, gloves, hot hands, and coats trying to remain as warm as possible in the 30 degree weather for the next ten hours. We passed the time by talking and becoming friends with the people around us in line, including one girl whom we had met at another concert the night before. We took turns going into the local businesses to use the bathroom, get something to eat, and just warm up. I even took a nap on the sidewalk at one point, and it wasn’t even that bad!
As the time inched closer to 7:00pm we all began to get really stressed and I just had this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. During the entire ten hours we were waiting outside, we had not seen a single person who worked at The Barclays Center, making it so we weren’t even completely sure if we were at the correct entrance. We tried to confirm that we were at the right entrance by calling the venue, no answer. We tried asking the box office, but they didn’t even know that the entrance on our ticket, Stairwell A, existed. So that bad feeling in my stomach just intensified as each minute passed and doors got closer to opening.
A mini sense of relief came over me when 7 o’clock finally came around, and the unmarked doors of Stairwell A opened. We were in the right place, and everything was going to be okay. Now, I have never been a runner, but once those doors open I am suddenly a highly decorated Olympic sprinter. I prepared myself to run, but little did I know, I was going to be doing a lot more than just running a couple hundred yards to the stage.
This is where everything takes a turn for the worse. We went through security, got our wristbands, and were directed downstairs where we were given our posters. That was the last time we received any reasonable directions from a staff member at the Barclays Center. After we got our posters, we went down this long hallway which we thought led to the stage, but it just led to an empty room. Not one Barclays Center staff member was in this room to explain what was going on, how to get to the stage, or what this room was. We all had to figure it out on our own by trying every door in the room, getting into the elevator and hitting every button, and going back to the security check to see if the guards knew anything.
From this point on, every VIP ticket holder was in a full fledged panic. Every person that I had met in line had purchased a VIP ticket because they were front row at Governor’s Ball before The Strokes’ set was cancelled and they purchased VIP tickets because they wanted to make sure they were front row again. All sense of a line was lost and the ten hours that we had waited outside was wasted. Eventually, we saw a woman on the other side of these big glass doors that were blocked off by a security guard who had been refusing to talk to us. She noticed us all pressed up against the glass and came over to proceed to yell at us. She shouted, “YOUR TICKETS DON’T GET YOU EARLY ACCESS TO THE MAIN CONCOURSE, YOU GET EARLY ACCESS TO THIS ROOM” before promptly disappearing with no further explanation.
Now, not only were we more confused, we were also feeling disrespected. We were still all very confused about what was going on since this woman left before clarifying what she meant, so I followed a crowd of people into the elevator, on to the main concourse, and down to the stage. We did not see a single Barclays Center employee on the way down. We were at the barricade and everything was fine. We were frustrated but everything was generally okay. But it didn’t last long.
After a few minutes security guards came down to the stage and forced us all to leave and go back to the room we entered in through. Now this caused an uproar. Some people were yelling at the guards, other people refused to leave the floor, and some people started running back up the stairs to the club. During this chaos, I feel up the stairs and scraped my knee, because you know I wasn’t having quite a bad enough time yet. At this point, I have lost my friends and my damn mind.
It wasn’t until after we got kicked off the floor that we connected the dots and realized that the VIP ticket got us early entry into this private room and not onto the stage. We didn’t figure that out from a staff member though since we hadn’t been able to reasonably communicate with one the entire time, we were forced to conclude that on our own. This means that we were being let into the arena at the same time as general admission. By the time we figured that out we only had about three minutes left until the main doors opened. So we began to head back down to the stage, in fact there was a man in the elevator who hit the button for us. But when the elevator doors opened, who do we find but the woman who yelled at us earlier. She told us we needed to go back upstairs and that doors aren’t open yet. It was 7:29pm. Doors opened in one minute and she refused to let us even stand in the doorway.
We were so done with this whole VIP experience that we just completely ignored her and when 7:30 hit we ran to the closest door down to the stage, just to be met with ANOTHER person standing in our way not letting us through. She said that she didn’t receive permission to let us through yet, which I understand she is just following protocol, but it was frustrating since I could see people from other doors rushing down to the stage, a lot of them being general admission ticket holders and not VIP. A few moments later she let us through and I BOOKED IT down the stairs and to the stage.
When I got down there, the barricade was already full of people, except for one tiny sliver of space big enough for me to put my hand down. I grabbed on and slowly, but politely, squeezed my way in there. After about 15 minutes of gentle pushing I was able to rest both of my arms on the barricade and take my celebratory barricade picture. I was on the opposite side of the stage from my friend Morgan, but I ended up next to people that I had become friends with in line, one of whom being a girl we met at a concert the night prior. I also became friends with the people behind me, which made the experience much better.
Now this may seem like the chaotic rants of a spoiled brat, but I want to explain more why this was so frustrating. I purchased this ticket despite not being able to afford it, because I am terrible with handling money and have major fear of missing out. I added the VIP upgrade to relieve anxieties and have a better chance of getting to the front row. To quote the advertisement and the confirmation email that I received, “VIP ticket holders get early entry to the venue and a poster that is available for pickup in the Qatar Airways Club which you will have access to from 7:00pm – 10:30pm.” This heavily implies that we will have entry to the main concourse to either go down to the barricade or purchase merchandise before the general public and if we want the poster, we will have to go up to the club to get it. Everyone I had met thought that this was what was included, which is an honest mistake based on the wording of the advertisement. The problem was the lack of communication and overall presence from the Barclays Center staff. In fact, whenever we would find someone, they would either yell or talk to us like we were stupid for not knowing what the ticket included.
What our VIP ticket actually included was early access to the Qatar Airways Club ONLY and a small poster which, if you ask me, was definitely not worth the $100 upgrade fee, which was why we all refused to believe what that woman yelled at us. I am still extremely grateful that I was able to attend this show and have a VIP ticket. I know that there were thousands of people who couldn’t afford tickets or get tickets before they sold out. Despite the major stress of the entire process everything worked out for me and my friends, but I can’t say that for everyone else I met through the night. In general, I’m pretty much fine with anything bad happening to me as long as I get a good story out of it.
Now onto the actual show.
The lineup for the night featured Hinds, Mac Demarco, and The Strokes. First up was Hinds, an all female indie rock group from Spain. They were a late addition to the lineup, only being announced about three weeks prior to the show. I was super excited to see them since I am a fan of their songs “The Club” and “Bamboo”. I was originally introduced to the band by a girl that I met in line for a concert over a year ago, so this really came full circle. They were so bubbly and energetic and you could tell that they were probably more excited to be there than anyone in the audience. They really lifted the spirits, since you could really feel the negativity in the pit after that whole VIP nightmare. They played so well together, they covered The Clash and even debuted an unreleased song. I would definitely go see a full concert of theirs.
According to the advertisements, the next act was supposed to be Mac Demarco, but there was an unexpected late addition to the lineup that was never announced. His name was Kirin J Callinan and he was interesting. He came on stage and introduced himself by saying, “I have some substantial dirt on multiple members of The Strokes, so they are letting me do these mini 10 minute sets between openers in order to keep me quiet.” At first I thought it was a joke, but the longer his sets went on, the more the possibility of blackmail seemed to make sense. During his first set he dropped his guitar pick inside the hole of his acoustic guitar and spent more than five minutes trying to shake it out before proceeding to smash the guitar on the stage. During his second set he went over his allotted time, so they cut his music and he sang a song fully A Cappella featuring the bizarre line, “I’m not a baby, not yet a boy, I’m the toddler” before they forcibly removed him from the stage. While his sets were definitely funny, I’d much rather have had Mac Demarco or Hinds play a longer set.
After Kirin’s first set was Mac Demarco. I am a huge fan, I’ve seen him twice and I even have his signature tattooed on my ankle. So when they announced that he would be an opener, that just further confirmed in my head that I had to be there. Mac’s music is very chill, but his shows are anything but that. He always manages to get the crowd all riled up, creating mosh pits to songs most people would just sway to. In fact, at his last show in August I broke my toe in one of the mosh pits. This show was no exception. Despite not being the headliner, he obviously had plenty of fans in attendance. He played all his top hits like “Chamber of Reflection”, “Freaking out the Neighborhood”, and “Salad Days”. He opened his set by swinging the microphone above his head by the wire to “On the Level”. Later in the set during “Cooking up Something Good,” he did a handstand into a forward roll. These are just a few examples of how much of an entertaining performer Mac is. My only complaint would be that his set wasn’t long enough!
After Mac Demarco, Kirin came on for another short set, which led right into an introduction for The Strokes. In fact, the last thing Kirin said before leaving the stage was, “Please welcome, in five minutes time, The Strokes.” Little did we know that they wouldn’t come on for another thirty minutes. The Strokes are notorious for being late to their shows, so this came as no surprise to many members of the audience. However, this did later cause them to cut two songs from their setlist, making the whole experience even more frustrating.
While we were waiting for the show to start, people were fainting left and right. Each time a person fainted, EMT’s had to lift them over the barricade and bring them to the medical area, which was pretty chaotic especially since there were about twenty photographers in the way between the barricade and the stage. These photographers were very annoying at this show. They were confined to the right side of the stage, exactly where I was standing, so they were all right in front of me blocking my view. One man even brought out a mini ladder and stood on it directly in front of me blocking my ENTIRE view for half of the first song, which of course would be my favorite song by The Strokes.
But enough with the negativity. After a ten hour wait outside followed by a disappointing VIP experience and a long set of openers, 11:30pm finally came and it was time for The Strokes to perform.
The arena erupted in screams as Julian Casablancas and The Strokes walked on stage. After taking a sarcastic bow, the lights went dark and the shattering sound of “Heart in a Cage” began to play. This moment was magical, I had been waiting for this moment for so long, and it was finally here. “Heart in a Cage” was a fantastic show opener, the energy in the arena was electric and it made all of the trouble to get to this point worth it. I was initially impressed by Julian’s live vocals, but what really surprised me was the incredible talent of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. The two switched back and forth between lead and rhythm guitar all night and had some amazing solos. I was particularly impressed by Albert’s solo in Reptilia and Nick’s solo in New York City Cops. Their live talent made me really understand how The Strokes have become such a defining band in the garage rock genre and why they’ve inspired so many popular bands today.
They prepared a very special set for the night. They played an unreleased song which they have played in festivals before called “The Adults are Talking”, but they also debuted another brand new song called “Ode to the Mets”, which was hauntingly beautiful. Along with these two new songs, they also teased a new album to be released in 2020. Later in the night they brought out Mac Demarco to sing Regina Spektor’s part in “Modern Girls & Old Fashioned Men”, a deep cut that they haven’t played live since 2003.
Deep cuts and new singles are so exciting, but the most special part of the night, by far, was the New Year’s Eve countdown. Hinds, Mac Demarco, and Kirin J Callinan all joined The Strokes on stage to ring in the New Year. Albert Hammond Jr. even brought out his dog. All of the jumbotrons showed the Time’s Square ball drop celebration and once the clock showed ten seconds left, everyone in the arena joined in to countdown the final seconds of the decade. Once the clock hit zero, several confetti cannons exploded and blanketed the arena in multicolor paper whilst The Strokes covered Auld Lang Syne. Julian even came down from the stage and touched everyone in the front row’s hands (including me) which is something that is very, very rare for him. I wouldn’t want to end the decade any other way and I will remember this moment forever.
For the remainder of the concert, they played more of the hits like “Last Nite”, “Someday”, and “Barely Legal”. Julian Casablancas continued to impress vocally, he also had a lot of hilarious and sarcastic commentary that made it feel like he was just talking to a bunch of his friends. Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi just blew me away all night with their incredible solos and Fabrizio Moretti (drums) and Nikolai Fraiture (bass) were the backbone of the performance.
After the concert, I met back up with my friend Morgan and we left with these three people that we had just met that night to go drink champagne in their airbnb. My mom tells me not to talk to strangers, but technically she never said I couldn’t drink champagne with a bunch of people I just met at a concert!
This night started out being extremely stressful and frustrating, but once the show began I completely forgot about all the negative things that happened earlier and was able to enjoy all of the amazing performers and this magical New Year’s celebration. I am looking forward to The Strokes’ new album and I can’t wait to see them again, hopefully, very soon. If I had the option to relive all of the trouble to experience this night one more time I would definitely do so with no hesitation.