SAN FRANCISCO — Somewhere near the end of their wild rock and roll lovefest Tuesday night at the Warfield, The Struts‘ frontman, Luke Spiller, asked his breathless followers, “Are there any Struts virgins in the crowd?” He then encouraged returning fans to cozy up to the newbies and show them a thing or two.
I’d never seen the Struts before, but somehow, I had a strange feeling I’d seen this act before.
It’s quite possible these nice British lads have heard of Queen. Maybe they’ve even seen some old concert footage or took a spin around a scratchy version of Live Killers. Perhaps Spiller is some sort of insane genius who figured out how to inject Freddie Mercury’s DNA into his own. That would explain a lot.
A band cloning itself into a version of a freakishly great, tirelessly popular band from the same country should lose points for doing so. And they do. One of the greatest challenges of artistic greatness is cutting one’s own swath while paying enough homage to those who came before to retain some familiarity. Creativity and originality are necessary ingredients of the process.
That said, it’s very difficult for a music snob to discard the Struts, for three big reasons.
One: They are a great live band. Or, rather, Spiller is a great frontman and his bandmates do just enough and know their places. Rarely does an act involve its crowd the way the Struts did Tuesday. It was as much a pep rally as a concert. People love to feel there’s very little separating them from the band.
Two: If you’re going to, ahem, borrow, borrow from the best. Don’t do it halfway. Know how to play and know how to deliver. If your heroes were epic, be epic.
Three: Know your surroundings. Reality show singers aside, Queen is no more. Sweet—another English ’70s band to which the Struts bear a resemblance—is no more. Same for Slade, etc. Those kids screaming Tuesday until their faces exploded never saw the Struts’ role models. And of the surprising number of middle-aged people there (some with their small children), they remembered just enough to know live greatness when they saw it.
The song list seemed of consequence in only that it gave people the framework to sing along. From opener “Primadonna Like Me” (off 2018’s Young & Dangerous) through “Bodytalks,” Kiss This” and “In Love with a Camera,” the Struts did their version of a British invasion. Guitarist Adam Slack knows enough classic rock and has good instincts to guide the music through the necessary riffs and hooks, while Spiller bounced around like a cheerleader between the piano and the crowd.
He plays piano with the occasional dramatic flourish (“Tatler Magazine” was a high point). And he frequently tongue-rolls his Rs. Just when one thought the pep rally was softening the music, Spiller and Slack brought things down with a perfectly timed acoustic “Low Key in Love” which, for being new, featured a surprisingly big sing-along after Spiller’s brief tutorial (and, no doubt, some YouTube previewers among the crowd).
By the time they played “Put Your Money on Me,” from 2014 debut album Everybody Wants, the night was beginning to resemble a long “making it big” movie montage. During “Where Did She Go,” Spiller had the band—and the crowd—down on their knees, competing to see which side was louder, and singing over the band’s playing. The clichés kept coming, and no one seemed to mind.
The 100-minute set—not bad for a band with two official alums to its credit—ended with lots of piano, posturin, and sing-alongs during dramatic encores of “Somebody New,” “Ashes (Part 2)” and “Could Have Been Me,” ending an evening of nothing some of us haven’t seen before, but done in a way ensuring we’ll see it again.
The best thing one can say about L.A. fashion-punk opening act Starcrawler is that they tried hard. Too hard. Singer Arrow de Wilde spat fake blood and ended most songs by crumbling in a heap. Between bouts of dramatic posturing, she shoved the mic down her pants and, later, disappeared into the crowd for a while only to get back on stage and writhe on the ground some more. Their music wasn’t terrible but got lost in the tired old stage antics. Hopefully, for their sake, they stuck around to watch the headliners and got some ideas.