By Paul Robicheau
Luke Spiller of the Struts: probably rock’s most commanding frontman since Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, and Steven Tyler in their prime.
Anyone who flatly laments “Rock is dead,” that today’s new bands don’t convey the magnetic power of rock ‘n’ roll in its 1970s heyday, needs to see the Struts.
“Welcome to the family,” singer Luke Spiller crowed at House of Blues on Tuesday after a roll call for people who had never seen the Struts, seen them before, and will see them again, prompting a hearty show of hands for all three categories.
What else should one expect in response to probably rock’s most commanding frontman since Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, and Steven Tyler in their prime. Spiller both sounds and looks quite a bit like Mercury. In addition to a physical resemblance, he flaunts the same kind of glammy outfits (some crafted by the Queen icon’s costume designer), and if Spiller doesn’t quite possess Mercury’s voice (who does?), he’s a highly charged singer with considerable range.
Yet it was Spiller’s intangible instincts that made the 30-year-old frontman such a charismatic force. Every cliché he flashed at House of Blues – bugged eyes and head tilts, hip sways and spins, overhead clapping and pointing to fans – seemed fresh and natural. And that kinetic energy helped the Struts transcend the purely derivative in a way that the Led Zeppelin-hounded young Greta Van Fleet hasn’t mustered. The three-quarters of a house ate it up. When Spiller pitted sides of the crowd against each other in a contest of cheers, he didn’t telegraph it with grand gestures or announcements. He just held a hand at waist level, subtly tilting it one way or the other, in perfect control of the dynamics with the crowd as well as with his band.
Ah yes, the rest of the English foursome. Guitarist Adam Slack, bassist Jed Elliott, and drummer Gethin Davies were simply solid and serviceable, and knew their roles, which included bequeathing most of the stage to Spiller. Slack and Elliott stuck close to sporadically used mic stands to the far sides, and each took brief spots to shine and creep toward center stage – usually during the few times when Spiller manned a keyboard next to the drum riser (again, a bit like Mercury). This isn’t a band built around a dynamic duo like Mercury and Brian May, Jagger and Keith Richards or Tyler and Joe Perry. And it doesn’t necessarily need to.
“Do you wanna be a primadonna with me tonight?” Spiller sang as he sashayed back and forth across the stage on Tuesday, setting up an anything-goes, larger-than-life confidence he was primed to share. Coming off their 2018 second album Young & Dangerous, The Struts frontloaded their 105-minute set with particularly catchy numbers like the hoot-laced “Body Talks” and “In Love with a Camera.” But apart from the tingling tryst tale “Dirty Sexy Money” and the anthemic charge “Fire,” the group’s full-bore, often-danceable glam-rock began to blur until Spiller began to break things up with showmanship tricks that included having fans get down to set up their spring back into jumping abandon. The singer also took time out to ride the band’s lowered groove and spin the tale of a woman in the industry who suggested he ditch the makeup, leading to his “bitch”-laced retort to set up “I Do It So Well” (of course Peter Wolf got away with the same derogatory word in his “Musta Got Lost” stage banter with the J. Geils Band back in the day, even if it sounds more inappropriate in today’s climate). A brief acoustic pairing of Slack and Spiller on “Mary Go Round” cued cellphones to light up the room like lighters did in the ’70s before the lyric “Summer’s here and the time is right” graced a bouncy cover of “Dancing in the Streets.” And the encore began with a solo Spiller at the keyboard, pouring himself into another song that stood out, the broken-hearted hesitance of “Somebody New.”
If not necessarily likely to compete in the commercial sphere with today’s pop and hip-hop acts, the Struts could still be that new rock band that goes farther than their British predecessors, Darkness. And with a supernova like Spiller, it’s hard to believe they won’t become big enough to reign in arenas. In the meantime, if you haven’t caught the Struts live, you have another chance on Sunday at the Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, N.H. They’ll shake the sand out of your skin.
Paul Robicheau served as the contributing editor for music in The Improper Bostonian in addition to writing and photography for The Boston Globe, Rolling Stone and other publications.