Dear Readers: Brace yourselves, I’m going to gush about the Struts. Once every year or two, a band comes along that appears to have all the necessary ingredients for success, notably good musicianship, solid songs, a clear identity, compelling stage presence and an ability to connect with their audience. It doesn’t hurt if, offstage, they’re either very nice guys or seductive bad boys. Check, check, check; Folks, meet the Struts.
First, all four members, especially the front three, vocalist Luke Spiller (dressed to kill), guitarist Adam Slack and bassist Jed Elliott, pose obligingly throughout their performance. Drummer Gethin Davies, hampered by his instrument—as are all drummers—still has some interesting moves, including one where he starts a song by jumping onto his seat while playing. If you’ve ever seen a dog swimming through the air while being held over water, you’ve seen the move, no disrespect to Davies.
For a good half hour before the show, the sold-out crowd of millennials sang word-perfect Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and Queen songs—all written before most of them were born—and when the Struts came onstage, they sang along with some of those tunes, too, even though the album wasn’t due to drop for another few hours.
A throwback to hair bands, the Struts seem heir apparent to Queen and the New York Dolls musically. After ripping through the first four songs without a break, Spiller paused to ask the audience to raise a glass to “Mr. Bowie,” and did a rousing cover of “Rebel Rebel.”
The Struts, and especially Spiller, work hard to engage the audience. At one point Spiller divided the crowd into right and left sides, and led a lengthy call-and-response competition of “Baby, baby, baby.” Finally, announcing “We’re all winners,” Spiller started, a “1-2-3-scream!” event which culminated in getting the audience to jump in unison. Irving Plaza was built in the late 1800s; earlier in the evening, at ground level, I leaned against a wall 30 feet from the stage and received a serious back massage, courtesy of the band’s rhythm section, so now, up in the balcony, we remained more cautious than those on the ballroom floor, who bounced enthusiastically on command.
Interestingly, the band uses tried-and-true means to connect with their audience, but despite the extremely calculated moves, we in the audience didn’t care. I didn’t feel manipulated, just entertained. Like a beau showing up with flowers and candy, their offerings felt more benevolent than bribes.
The band seemed genuinely thrilled at the crowd’s welcome. “We couldn’t have asked for a better show,” Spiller told the audience. “Who’d have thought we’d sell out this legendary venue before the album even comes out?” Tickets weren’t the only thing to sell out. At the afterparty, I asked their manager for a CD, and he told me they’d sold all of them at the show.
The only down moment of the show came with “Black Swan,” which Spiller sang accompanied only by Adam Slack on acoustic guitar. Having just come from Folk Alliance, where it seems that every guitarist picks better than the last, Slack’s work seemed uninspired, at best. Gethin Davies’ drumming definitely contributes more to the band’s sound than any other instrument, not including Spiller’s vocals. Earlier, one industry professional near me said, “They’re one lead guitarist away from being a supergroup.” I disagree, but understand his point.
That said, highlights of a dazzlingly bright show included most of Everybody Wants, the new album, including “Young Stars,” “Kiss This” and “Only Just a Call Away,” a powerful ballad not on the new CD.
Before their final bow, Spiller asked, “Who’s willing to see the Struts again? Raise your hands.”
Take a guess how many hands went up. Hint: Irving Plaza’s capacity is 1050.
– Suzanne Cadgène