Blake Snow

writer-for-hire, content guy, bestselling author

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The Struts: Sober performances and the return of stage presence

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

“Who does this guy thinks he is?”

I asked myself that upon seeing Luke Spiller perform with The Struts for the first time. He had just finished ripping through the opening four songs of their recent set in Salt Lake City. Two singles. Two of his debut album’s most anthemic tracks. No stops or pauses in between songs. All in the first 15 minutes of a performance that would eventually double the running time of their only album plus one new song.

But unlike a punk act that similarly keeps the punches rolling, Spiller was wholly uninhibited on stage. He wore glittered capes and spandex. Shimmied his shoulders like Freddie Mercury. Calculated dramatic toe steps and emphatic kicks in every direction. Choreographed his carefully rehearsed movements to the music.

While observing all of this, I couldn’t decide if Spiller wanted to imitate Michael Jackson, Robert Plant, Prince, or Mick Jagger. On top of that, the size of his mouth suggests his mother may have slept with Steven Tyler during the British leg of Aerosmith’s Pump tour.

In a later interview after the show, he brushed off a facetious question about his outrageous showmanship. “That’s just what I am,” he told me. “It’s just what I enjoy.”

For lovers of live performances that make you forget the troubles at home, Spiller’s dramatic charisma is all for your gain. 

“One helluva show”

I’ve seen a good number of live performances since the early ‘90s. Upwards of 150 by my estimation. (Standouts this century include Muse, The Killers, and The Who in that order. Discount me if you must.)

While I’m sure there are many other standouts, something happens the more you see live music. Sooner or later you realize that great performances are few and far between. Tours, after all, can number in dozens or even hundreds of shows—a recipe for monotony.

Because of this, at some point you decide you don’t just want to just hear good music; an act that can be accomplished at home with a hi-fi. You want to witness a great performance in the presence of others. So when a local radio deejay went out of her way recently to hype the well-toured Struts, I listened. “Believe me,” she earnestly said. “These guys put on… One. Hell. Of a show.”

“Yeah, but will it last?” I skeptically asked in later agreement after hearing their first four songs. For the record, I’m here to report: Yes. It. Did. During the 14 track plus one jam session set, I didn’t get bored once. Neither did the other 400 attendees. There was no drop in emotion or energy at any point of the 1:45 minute performance.

To mix things up, Spiller played “Who can sing loudest?” between right and left sides of the venue. He had us all—and I stress all—jump in synchrony during key crescendos. When he asked us to clap, we did so willingly without prematurely trailing off, as so often happens with forced requests to participate at other shows.

Throughout the show, I tried to watch guitarist Adam Slack, bassist Jed Elliott, and drummer Gethin Davies. I really did. But my attempts were in vain. Like a peacock wearing glitter and leather, Spiller is impossible to ignore. He commands your attention. Not selfishly, mechanically, and/or not just visibly. But sincerely and verbally as well.

The whole thing is obviously well rehearsed—something Spiller readily admits. “It’s been five years of playing and experimenting with the same songs,” he says. “The USA is experiencing a well-oiled version of The Struts.”

Nevertheless, I still saw a first. Near the end of the show, Spiller had the entire audience on its knees, worshiping at the altar of The Struts. He then asked us to jump with unbridled enthusiasm one last time, which we all happily did—even the overweight man in front of me wearing khaki shorts and a blue polo shirt.

Rock ‘N Roll in good hands?

After seeing The Struts live and growing to respect their first album as something that represents a watershed moment for the return of showmanship, glam rock, and post-modern classic rock without the ass-hole-ish-ness, my faith in rock ‘n roll has been renewed.

Despite contrary reports suggesting otherwise, the genre is alive and well, even if it’s become more pop-ified, synthesized, and increasingly produced with MIDI. But the Spiller-lead Struts are proof that attention-seeking swagger, powerful and auto-tune free voices, and mesmerizing performance art can still reign supreme.

And unlike the drunken rock performances of decades past that hindered otherwise great musicians, Spiller is extremely serious about his craft. So much so that he consumes tea during performances as opposed to booze or drugs. “I’m experimenting with the possibilities of performing completely sober,” he admitted to me. His sobriety, it seems, is also your gain.

In an equally un-rock ‘n roll (or very rock ‘n roll, depending on your perspective) thing to do, Spiller also believes in getting a full night’s rest to maintain his powerful voice. “The performance is my priority,” he recently told GQ. “I’m very cautious of letting people down who buy tickets to shows.”

You see, when Spiller asks to “Put your money on me,” he’s not just asking his figurative lover to believe in him. He’s asking music fans to trust in him as a live performer. Having seen him and his accredited power trio do their thing, I readily will.

Who does this guy thinks he is then? When asked that question, Spiller implies the future of rock ‘n roll. Is there anyone else with equal showmanship? “Not at the the moment,” he tells me. “But I’m sure there will in about 10 years.”—Blake Snow