Despite leaning into the gangly and goofy persona that he crafted for himself, Conan O’Brien had one of the coolest late-night programmes during the 1990s and 2000s. The rightful heir to David Letterman’s brand of smart-ass silliness, Conan revelled in his love of the absurd, crafting characters like the Masturbating Bear and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. Well aware of his programme’s lack of competition to rivals like The Tonight Show, O’Brien instead celebrated how outside the mainstream his show was.
That extended to the musical guests, with O’Brien frequently featuring up-and-coming artists on his programme. In late 2001, that included The Strokes, who were quickly gaining a reputation as New York’s hottest band. After recording The Modern Age EP in 2000 and building up a following at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side, The Strokes collected eleven of their best songs during the summer of 2001 and recorded Is This It, their seismic debut record.
The album itself was released in July, but not in America. The subsequent September 11th attacks caused a number of delays in the album’s promotional cycle. That included the replacement of one of the album’s tracks, ‘New York City Cops’, with the newly-recorded ‘When It Started’. In October, the record was finally released on CD in America, and the band set out on a tour that included a stop at Late Night with Conan O’Brien to make their television debut.
For their first appearance on TV, the group opted to play the title song for their first EP, ‘The Modern Age’. It’s almost absurd how young the group looks – drummer Fab Moretti is 21, but only by a few months. Guitarist Nick Valensi isn’t even old enough to drink, as he would turn 21 two months later. Julian Casablancas is the old man of the group, standing as an ancient 23-year-old at the time of the taping.
The group’s characteristic bare-bones rock and roll is completely unadorned: two guitars, a bass, and a small drum kit. Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. have small pedalboards at their feet, but their sound mostly comes from their amps. Casablancas wields his signature vocal sound, somewhere between the detached laconic tones of Lou Reed and the squeal of a broken megaphone. It’s raw, unpolished, and potentially even revolutionary to the right people.
Check out the performance of ‘The Modern Age’ down below.