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Struts - Aragon Chicago, 5/12/2015

  by Lisa Torem

published: 5 / 2 / 2016

Struts - Aragon Chicago, 5/12/2015


Lisa Torem watches as frontman Luke Spiller and the Struts cast a spell on a young audience at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom.

The youth that showed up at Chicago’s historic Aragon Ballroom might have heard stories about the first (and second) British Invasion, but tonight they actually got a good taste of how that then truly original and bold music culturally mobilised a generation. They might not have heard from their elders that 1960s-1970s rock went through a steady downturn as punk and New Wave bands replaced lengthy solos and intricately-composed anthems with repetitive, droning progressions and sometimes colourless vocals or pedestrian clothing. Or they might have discovered that rock developed a reputation for excess, which led to tragic deaths. But they also may have never reaped the rewards that rock culture often delivers, and maybe that is why the Struts are becoming one of the most essential quartets of this decade. If classic rock music suffered an unjust tar and feathering back in the day, justice has been served compliments of the Struts. But how did it happen? In 2009, Luke Spiller met and connected immediately with songwriter Adam Slack. They initially asked Jamie Binns and Rafe Thomas to join the band, but replaced them in 2012 with Jed Elliott (bass) and Gethin Davies (drums). The Struts have been hailed by many critics and fans as contemporary musical messiahs. They strike brassy chords, instigate bawdy dialogue and already have the wisdom to know that audiences remember a show the most when every sense is fired-up. They hail from Derby in England and have already head-blasted their native country. Currently they reside in Los Angeles, where they sold out the famous Troubadour in thirty minutes, and everything else they do seems to spin gold. They opened for the Rolling Stones in Paris last year for about 80,000 screaming fans yet are still in the courtship stage in North America, although all signs point to a brilliant career here, too. Tonight, however, some fans were hearing them for the first time as they came to hear one of the other two bands. The Struts were sandwiched in between singer-songwriter Meg Meyers and electronic wizards Awolnation: quite a bit of crowd surfing took place during this last act, when some free-flowing orchestrations allowed it, but this activity wouldn’t/couldn’t have happened during Spiller’s all-consuming cakewalk. After all, this dynamic front man demands that all eyes be on him or frickin’ else! A pre-recorded story about the perils of sex, drugs and rock and roll blared from the arena’s sound system after Ms. Meyers exited. The young women that were seated next to me lamented that the audience had been distracted during the singer-songwriter’s ballad-laden set - they had come specifically to see her and were annoyed at the chatter that took place during it - but the Aragon was about to undergo a major metamorphosis. Soon after Davies, Elliott and Slack manned the stage, Spiller strolled to the centre. The three proved themselves to be avid listeners and skillful musicians, but they also demonstrated that they knew how to stand back and allow their front man to smirk and parade around the stage like the rock star he was born to become. His jet-black hair looked luminous as it brushed against his shimmering, gold-sequined top. His dark eyes settled on one spot, than another, then another. There was no way any group of fans were going to escape his intense gaze. They launched into the feverish ‘Roll Up’. Spiller primped diva-style as he closed in on the front row. Although I was sitting in the balcony, I could have sworn he was looking directly at me—not just our row, but me. I imagine every other attendee felt the same way, though. The man just knows how to really work a stage. He enunciated the word “Chicago” very carefully, as if it were part of a foreign language lesson. He used the place name generously, making sure we knew that he knew exactly where they were. Spiller pouted his lips accordingly before introducing ‘Kiss This’ from last year’s release ‘Everybody Wants’. Other songs from the newest album also allowed him to show off his impressive range. It’s not rock and roll if you don’t sing about hard cash, and their signature song about that subject had more than its share of extravagant riffs A good portion of the concert including a series of orders — Spiller barked at us to have fun, jump and sing. At one point, he sneakily made his way to the arena floor and conducted a call and response routine in the middle of the gaping fans, under the twinkling, slowly revolving disco ball. The result was a kind of impromptu revival meeting/campfire sing-a-long. The two young women sitting next to me were now completely immersed in the antics. Spiller divided the room into two parts. He floated his wrist up and down to control the dynamics as each group copied his improvised on-the-spot sounds. The band repeated stanzas from ‘Could Have Been Me’, one of their most anthemic tunes, making good use of a rather short repertoire, but it really didn’t matter that they weren’t ticking off song after song because there was so much to take in. The impossible-to-ignore Spiller is easy on the eye and the Struts’ stage show in its entirety initiates a healthy heart rate. When he sings, he imbues a contagious energy that quickly circles back and, of course, having sought out the skills of Zandra Rhodes (who just happens to be the late Freddie Mercury’s hand-picked designer), doesn’t hurt the image one bit. There were no stagnant moments, although some additional solo work from the rest of the players would have made it a perfectly balanced evening. Slack and Gethen let us in on their talents for a few, brief seconds, but Elliott, although he moved extremely well, stayed pretty much in the background. The last band would be setting up soon, but there was long enough to squeeze in one encore: ‘Where Did She Go?’ By the time they left, the Struts had filled up every minute with dramatic moves, soaring vocals and comic repartee. Because they were part of a three-dog-night, the band had major time constraints, but hopefully the Struts will have the opportunity to make the next concert all their own. They’ve earned that slot and I just can’t wait. Photographs by CCHT

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Struts - Aragon Chicago, 5/12/2015

Struts - Aragon Chicago, 5/12/2015

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