Last week The Struts, an English glam rock outfit lead by frontman Luke Spiller, took over the stage for a sold out show in the Musikfest Cafe at Artsquest in Bethlehem. It was a packed house – the temperature in the venue sweltering and the addition of a barrier in front of a stage giving it a feel more like the Chameleon Club than what I’ve come to expect at the venue. For many fans the evening started early, with guests lining up for a VIP meet and greet/acoustic set, and afterwards winding down the steps in a seemingly interminable line waiting to enter the main show.
The show kicked off with opener Badflower, an LA-based rock band whose sound wandered from melodic ballads to blistering riffs, often all within the same song. While this became a bit formulaic, their energy and lyricism was engaging, and they put a very solid set despite continuing sound issues throughout their performance. They were their best on”Heroin,” which begins with frontman Josh Katz singing delicately over a slow beat and light guitar riff that devolves into a gain-laden heavy rock portion and back again. The emotive and passionate performance on this song in particular was a highlight, and carried through the rest of their set when they closed out with their song, “Let the Band Play.”
The crowd, a diverse bunch with everyone from dads rocking Black Sabbath shirts, kids in Beatles gear, and thirty-somethings in Greta Van Fleet tees, immediately roared to life when The Struts hit the stage. Engaging from the get-go, they launched into “Put Your Hands Up” and had the crowd jumping and singing along as Spiller bounded effortlessly across the stage dressed in a flashy, fringed, sequin jacket. The hits started early, with their new single “Body Talks,” released just a month ago and already rising on the alternative charts, coming only two songs in, and followed with “One Night Only,” which topped out in the top 20 of the alternative charts. It was during this song the crowd got an indication of the rest of the show: fantastic guitar solos and an animated Spiller, dancing across the stage and channeling his inner Freddie Mercury while the crowd begged for more.
They played their biggest hit, “Kiss This” in the middle of the main set. Beginning with a guitar solo before Spiller dove into the song, he lead the crowd in singing along, pointed at crowd members, snapped his fingers, and swaggered across the stage. Their hit now over, usually a cue for the band unfaithful – those there to hear the radio hits – to leave, the crowd remained strong. Things became a little arduous during an extended crowd sing-along that went a few minutes too long, but it hardly dulled the energy in the room. At one point Spiller noted that he wasn’t at his best thanks to a travel schedule that included flying in from a video shoot at 4 a.m. If this show was him in diminished capacity, I can’t imagine a show with him at his peak.
Before closing out the main set with “Put Your Money on Me” the band ripped through a long rendition of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” and even brought up a young fan dressed in a CBGB shirt to finish out the song, a nod to The Boss’s classic music video. A two-song encore ensued, during which they admonished the crowd, “Remember the name The Struts!,” as if we could ever forget.
This show proved a few things: One, The Struts are one of the most energetic, impressive, and exciting bands in rock today. Two, the band caters to a diverse crowd, with their classic rock n’ roll sound and catchy songs enticing the young, old, hipster, and pop-lover alike. And three, perhaps most importantly, is that shows like this sell, and can pack a house at the Musikfest Cafe. While there have been other hit indie shows – Conor Oberst, Andrew McMahon, Beach Slang – they have been few and far between other than the Musikfest and Yuengling Summer Concert Series shows. If the Musikfest Cafe could fill even a sliver of the programming gap that the Lehigh Valley still faces following the closure of Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown (most similar shows are now booked to Lancaster and Stroudsburg), the scene would be far more relevant and better off. A great booking, a great band, and a great night. Remember the name The Struts.
Put Your Hands Up
One Night Only
The Ol’ Switcheroo
Primadonna Like Me
Dirty Sexy Money
Let’s Make This Happen Tonight
Fire (Part 1)
Dancing in the Dark
Put Your Money on Me
Could Have Been Me
Where Did She Go