From the sparkly drape over the piano to the increasingly outlandish mid-set ‘costume changes’, The Struts are committing to the whole glam rock thing. At their biggest Bristol headline gig to date, I was won over. They’re loud, outrageous, theatrical, and they know how to make you have fun.
As far as charisma, I don’t know if I’ve seen a better live band. We were frontman Luke Spiller’s puppets, whether he wanted us to dance, sing, crouch, or cheer. I am not the first to compare his aura to that of Freddie Mercury, but when you see them live it’s easy to understand why. Not many people can rock a harmonica wearing a golden drape and still make it look, and sound, cool. It’s all been done before, yes, but the self-awareness of their own hyperbolic image in lyrics such as ‘don’t you know who I think I am?’ keeps the whole thing tongue-in-cheek, even farcical.
The glitz isn’t a cover-up for lack of talent though, far from it. Lead vocalist Spiller has seriously impressive range and power, putting everyone in the audience to shame with his call and response prompts. That being so, I wish there’d been a few more songs, as sometimes it felt they were giving way to the overall performance. Spiller’s vocal stamina lasted even while parading round the stage with his flamboyant dance moves, which, it has to be said, were incredibly entertaining to watch. I found myself grinning for most of the set watching the band have that much fun, and they were just as keen for us to do the same. Encouraged to forget the band and have a boogie before a hedonistic ten-minute rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ begins, SWX briefly turns into a packed nightclub. Mid-way through, a fan is hand-picked to come up on stage for her very own Courtney Cox moment, complete with 80s moves.
This isn’t to say that Spiller steals all the thunder. Guitarist Adam Slack and (particularly gorgeous) bassist Jed Elliott would sometimes enjoy their own spotlight moments and take center stage with their energetic solos. It was refreshing to see the band share attention, with drummer Gethin Davies especially (or maybe it was the gigantic Welsh flag tied to his kit) getting a lot of love.
Before a slow piano ballad kicks off the encore, Spiller muses about his Bristolian roots, writing his first song at ‘The Crofter’s Rights’, and how proud he is to be here tonight. He mentions the slow trajectory The Struts have experienced in the UK. He’s not wrong – they've supported Foo Fighters, The Rolling Stones, Mötley Crüe, played at The Victoria Secret Fashion Show - and all with high praise, and they’re still a pretty unknown name in the British music scene. And yet when he says with the utmost honesty ‘I couldn’t care less because you’ve all made this the best gig ever’ and you witness their genuine humility, you can’t help but root for them.
Spiller’s last words on stage are ‘Remember the name Bristol: The Struts.’ I think we should be doing just that. It’s time to stop talking about The Struts in terms of their support slots and celebrity praise, and start taking them seriously as a great band in their own right. If radio and media doesn’t do it for them, their live shows definitely will.
Words and photography by Ella Faye Howcroft