THE STRUTS, WHITE REAPER, and SPIRIT ANIMAL at The Stone Pony
OCTOBER 5, 2018
Fashion icon rockers The Struts embraced a sold out crowd at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ on Oct 5th and they did so as the headliner. Having been a band since 2012, it’s impressive that they are ready, willing, and able to fill the role of being the main attraction. This was my fourth time seeing the band and I see very good things on the horizon, as they keep getting better and better and BETTER!
The Struts transcend the live concert experience. They literally have it all. First, there is lead vocalist Luke Spiller who was mostly exposed to gospel music as a young child. But when he listened to Michael Jackson’s album Off The Wall, he immediately became interested in the performance of the pop and rock music genres. Luke did not begin singing until he was sixteen, and started playing instruments a few years later. Late blooming aside, he has found a powerful voice and an incredible proclivity to the piano and harmonica.
His stage presence is one of delightful domination. Dancing around the stage in glamorous outfits designed by the likes of Zandra Rhodes (clothing designer of Freddie Mercury), Spiller dazzles the audience with spins, iconic poses, and fan interactions. All this while delivering rock-pop songs that appeal to a diverse fan base. It also appeals to rock legends such as The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, The Who, and Foo Fighters … all of whom The Struts have opened for during the last two years!
Guitarist/songwriter Adam Slack connected with Spiller in 2009 and they recruited Jamie Binns and Rafe Thomas to play bass and drums. In 2012, Binns and Thomas were replaced by bassist Jed Elliott and drummer Gethin Davies. Slack, Elliott and Davies are superbly talented musicians who provide tightly-knit rock creations that are a solid backdrop to Spiller’s vocals. All four bandmates are an equal part of the group’s success and although that can sometimes get lost with such a charismatic frontman, it just isn’t the case with the Struts. Slack performs gorgeous guitar solos atop Elliott’s impressive bass lines and Davies’ pounding rock riffs.
The other quality each band member has in common is their ability to pull off classy fashion that perfectly complements their persona as a group; a pretty hard thing to do in the rock realm. Luke had several outfit changes beginning with a black and white leather outfit; the jacket having fringes off the shoulders worn over a sequined top. He later wore pieces such a flowing black robe with ornate stitching and a silver and red sequined top hat. Adam sported a classic black jacket with beautiful gold stitching, Gethin wore a black and white striped sleeveless vest, and Jed rocked out in sexy black leather pants. Sound too dressy for a rock band? Well then, I urge you to look through my gallery (below) so that you can see just how amazing they all looked.
The show had everything. Fans cheered hysterically and literally did anything Luke asked of them, from singing and dancing to lighting up the venue with their cell phones. The Struts paid homage to the history of The Stone Pony and played Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark,” calling up a lucky fan to dance and sing with Luke the way Courtney Cox did with Bruce in his legendary video of the song. And there was even a wedding ceremony between two fans of which Gethin officiated. He creatively weaved the band’s song titles into the nuptials ending with “if things don’t work out, you can always do The Ol’ Switcheroo!”
In addition to playing the songs that have propelled them to fame from their album Everybody Wants, The Struts dazzled with new songs “Fire,” “Ashes,” “People,” and “Somebody New” from their brand new album Young & Dangerous, which is being released on October 26. Luke stated that “a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this new album,” and he was a bit disheartened to read a few negative reviews. But he quickly went on to say that he’s decided to “not give a fuck about what anyone says.” It’s the perfect attitude to have because when the band played those songs I heard ballads that have the potential to dominate the airwaves and Spotify downloads. They have definitely matured in their sound and the songs give Spiller the chance to flex his vocal muscles in a compelling and effective way. The album is going to be a powerhouse.
The band was visibly affected by the love emanating from the crowd and stated that the “energy in here is electric.” In one of his more heartfelt remarks, Luke mentioned that the band had really struggled to grain traction in the United Kingdom and it wasn’t until fans in the United States embraced them, that the UK began to follow suit. He’s referring to their 2015 tour of the States during which most shows sold out and their single “Could Have Been Me” hit No 1 on Spotify’s Viral Top 50, No 4 on iTunes rock singles chart and in the top 5 on US alternative and active rock charts.
What really struck me that night was the crowd’s reaction to The Struts’ performance. The applause between each song sounded like the boisterous type of applause fans typically reserve for the very end of a performance. Each and every song had cheering that was super loud and lasted for a long time. Also noticeable was the look of adoration in the fans’ faces. I listened to countless fans as they left the venue saying that it was the best show they’ve ever seen.
Luke has stated in the past, “The main mission of the band is to bring back that feeling of fun and rock & roll, especially to all those people who are bored by what’s going on these days.” “We really believe that music, when it’s done right, can help you escape the present moment, and then just send you somewhere else entirely.” Well, if that’s what the Struts came to do, then they most certainly achieved it that night in Asbury Park, NJ. Well done, guys!!!
Louisville, Kentucky natives White Reaper then took charge of the Stone Pony Stage gifting us with their bad-ass garage/ punk rock music. Formed by singer/guitarist Tony Esposito and twin brothers Nick and Sam Wilkerson (drums and bass) they released their first single “Conspirator” in 2013. Band members Ryan Hater (keyboard) and Hunter Thompson (guitar) round out the group which has a richly layered sound due to their musicianship.
Tony has a unique voice that parallels Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan and punches out his voice in a very musical way for a punk rock sound. Many of their songs had the energy and attraction of Green Day’s style. Their sound is polished, solid and performed quite perfectly. Their music is really catchy and held the crowd’s attention throughout their entire set.
White Reaper released their self-titled EP in 2014 with Polyvinyl Records, White Reaper Does It Again in 2015 (which recorded in one week), and World’s Best American Rock Band in 2017. Their most recent album garnered accolades for the high quality of musicianship of each member and their ability to embrace a more expansive, booming rock sound. Whatever formula the guys are using … they should continue with it. They give a great rock show that will undoubtedly inspire music lovers to seek them out to buy/download their music.
Spirit Animal is THAT band. You know … that band that you’re lucky enough to see live early in their career and you just feel it in your bones that they are going to be much bigger one day? Having seen them twice during their tour with Theory (formally Theory of a Deadman), I was super excited to hear them again, especially since they just released their major-label debut album, Born Yesterday, on August 3rd, 2018. Recently signing with Atlantic Records, I’m not the only one who sees the potential in them.
The group is from Brooklyn, NY and consists of Steve Cooper (lead vocals), Cal Stamp (lead guitar), Paul Michel (bass), and Ronen Evron (drums). They formed in 2010 and put out their first studio album The Cost of Living, following it up with their first EP This Is A Test in 2012. Their song “Black Jack White” was featured in the show CSI:NY. They’ve opened for Incubus, Theory, Fitz and the Tantrums, currently The Struts, and will be opening for Red Sun Rising later this Fall.
I was trying to put my finger on exactly what it is about these guys that resonates in me and I think it’s that their music is unpredictable. They incorporate so many styles from rap, hard and progressive rock ... to funk, new wave and a bit of synth-pop. Each of their songs contains something exciting yet unexpected and it’s very entertaining. I would say their music has various elements from the likes of The Killers, Talking Heads, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and dare I say a little Devo? But they can’t be put into a category, much like the diversity you hear from Twenty One Pilots. And THAT … is what sets them apart.
Each band member plays with a contagious energy where it’s apparent they feel the music deep inside them. Steve actively moves around the whole stage, pulsing to the beat and interacting with the crowd. Paul jumps and stomps as he plays with facial expressions that proves he’s moved by his music. Cal plays his guitar masterfully and Ronen incessantly pounds out a freight train beat. Their sound is fresh, new and exciting.
The crowd agreed and quickly became involved in the lyrics from “YEAH,” “Painkiller,” and “Regular World” to name a few. These musicians have many good things on the horizon and will be returning to Asbury Park, NJ in November at The House of Independents. I urge you to check them out!