The Brokes Play the Strokes in a New York Rock Club

More than two decades after the Strokes led an indie rock renaissance in New York City, a Strokes cover band called the Brokes played a sold-out show at Arlene’s Grocery, a small venue on the Lower East Side.

Hailing from Toronto, the Brokes were on their first American tour, and this gig held special meaning: The Strokes used to play Arlene’s back when they were the garage rock princes of downtown Manhattan honing their act at clubs like this one.

During a 45-minute set, the Brokes blazed through early Strokes hits like “The Modern Age” and “Last Nite” as fans chanted lyrics and pumped their fists into the air. The frontman, Marlon Chaplin, wore sunglasses and fingerless gloves while singing through a distortion effect to match Julian Casablancas’ vocal style.

The Brokes guitarist Adrian Traub-Rees, wearing a white suit and Converse sneakers, looked and sounded like Albert Hammond Jr. as he played a white Fender Stratocaster. The crowd roared when he traded licks with Brandon Wall, who plays Nick Valensi’s guitar parts, during another Strokes fan favorite, “Reptilia.”

Mr. Chaplin addressed the crowd in his Casablancas-esque tone: “We’re taking you back to ‘Room on Fire’ with this next tune.”

After a few more Strokes hits, Mr. Chaplin alluded to the past: “I don’t need to tell you all about the history of the Strokes here at Arlene’s.”

The grainy footage posted to YouTube of the Strokes at Arlene’s in 2000 is now an artifact of a bygone scene. Scruffy and unsigned, the band throws itself into “New York City Cops” and “Soma” from the tiny stage. Three years later, the group would appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. Along with Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes became part of the sleazy indie rock epoch chronicled in Lizzy Goodman’s book “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” and the documentary based on it.

It is the romance of the early aughts that the Brokes recreate for their fans, who are not, as you might expect, aging millennials who grew up listening to “Is This It” on iPods during the George W. Bush administration. Instead, the crowd at Arlene’s was made up predominantly of Gen-Zers who had discovered the Strokes through later albums like “Comedown Machine” (2013) and “The New Abnormal” (2020) and now find themselves yearning for the band’s gritty genesis.

“They sound just like them,” said Bonnie Astrid, 23, who came to the show from New Haven, Conn. “Seeing them feels like I’m seeing the Strokes if they were young again. If Julian was young again.”

Caroline Anchor, 26, concurred. “Being here feels like being at a Strokes nerd fest,” she said. “The Brokes play deep cuts, songs the Strokes would never play live at some big stadium today.”

Sammy Moran, 25, said he felt a fan’s excitement when he bumped into a member of the Brokes on his way to the bathroom. “My parents didn’t create me early enough to see that time when the Strokes were the ultimate New York band,” he said. “I feel robbed because of that.”

He added, “I’d rather see the Brokes a million times over than the Strokes.”

Hours before the show, the Brokes pulled into the Lower East Side in a silver Dodge Caravan and hauled their gear into the venue. Before sound check, they took a walking tour of sorts to visit sites of Strokes history.

Their first stop was 171 Ludlow Street, the former address of Luna Lounge, an early venue for the Strokes that closed in 2005. Now it’s a boutique hotel — Hotel Indigo — but that didn’t stop the Brokes from nerding out as guests with shopping bags stood outside waiting for Ubers.

“We’re on sacred territory,” Mr. Chaplin, the frontman, said. “This is where it started.”

Mr. Traub-Rees, the guitarist, noted the line of tourists outside Katz’s Deli.

“We know a lot has changed here, but to me there’s still an energy on the Lower East Side,” he said. “Maybe it’s the tourist in me, but even despite the Luna Lounge now being a hotel, I am still seeing ghosts and resident spirits. I’m not ashamed to get a pretzel and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Dan Bedard, the group’s bassist, dropped the G word. “We know what New Yorkers think of the Lower East Side’s gentrification,” he said. “But we’re not too cool to be in a tribute band, and we’re not too cool to say we love New York.”

The Brokes continued their ruminations as they marched to the Mercury Lounge on Houston Street. “This was their Cavern Club,” Mr. Traub-Rees said, referring to the Liverpool, England, venue that served as a testing ground for the Beatles. “Standing here, I can visualize the long lines that formed for people to see the Strokes as they started to take off.”

The Brokes ambled into the East Village to seek out the graffiti-marked doorway that once led to Transporterraum, the basement studio where the Strokes recorded their debut album, released in 2001. It’s still a recording studio, known now as Flux Studios. When an engineer stepped out for a smoke, he said a hip-hop session was underway. The Brokes craned their necks to peer inside before the door slammed shut.

Finally, they stepped into 2A, a bar that was once a hangout for the Strokes. Over Brooklyn Lagers, the Brokes reflected on their journey.

It all started, Mr. Chaplin said, on a night out with some friends in Toronto in 2017. They ended up at a karaoke event, and Mr. Chaplin took the stage on a whim to sing the Strokes song “Someday.”

“When I got offstage, everyone said I sounded just like Julian,” he recalled. “A guy at the bar told me he was convinced it was a Strokes recording playing on the speakers.”

It wasn’t until 2022 that Mr. Chaplin assembled some friends to perform as the Brokes, pretty much as a gag, for a Halloween party. Three months later, when they played a Toronto club, The Baby G, they had to turn people away at the door.

“That’s when we realized we had something,” he said.

The Brokes still have day jobs. Mr. Traub-Rees (Albert) is a carpenter. Mr. Bedard (Nikolai Fraiture) works at a nursing home. Mr. Wall (Nick) is a guitar teacher. Mr. Chaplin (Julian) is a video director and editor. And the drummer, Connor MacArthur (Fabrizio Moretti), recently graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University.

Have they heard from the Strokes?

Not yet. But they claim that Mr. Hammond had watched one of their Instagram stories. And Mr. Traub-Rees hugged Mr. Casablancas onstage when he was performing with the Voidz at a Toronto club. “I’m still trying to find someone who has footage,” he sighed.

Mr. Traub-Rees said they occasionally hear from trolls.

“On the internet and in social media comments, people say, ‘Hey, don’t you think it’s a little early for a Strokes cover band?’” he said. “Well, I’m sorry to tell those people that 20 years have gone by, but they have.”

Later that night, after the Brokes finished performing at Arlene’s, some fans made the band members feel like the real thing as they mobbed them for autographs and selfies. Others bought Brokes stickers and T-shirts from a merch table. By the bar, a woman tried to get Mr. Chaplin’s number.

But with a long road ahead of them the next day — a six-hour drive to Buffalo to play their last tour date — the Brokes were eager to catch a few hours’ sleep at their Airbnb in Elizabeth, N.J. And their day jobs awaited them on Monday.

While his bandmates lugged gear back into the Dodge Caravan, Mr. Bedard, now wearing reading glasses, had a smoke outside the venue.

“Playing here tonight, that felt like the New York I’d always romanticized,” he said. “That was a joy playing to those people, seeing them get teleported.”

“Some musicians turn their nose up at playing in a tribute band, but I think we’re an anti-cynical act,” he added. “The irony is that the Strokes always had the ultimate frosty ‘too cool’ attitude. They never wanted to become icons. But we’re happy to play for their fans on stages 365 days a year if they don’t want to.”

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