Well that was a good night! Anyone looking to harken back to some rock yesteryears or who thinks there is no music with staying power hanging around in a world of pop bands need look no further than the bill tonight. I literally walked in the door as the lights fell and opener Andrew Watt walked out onto a stage covered in Orange amps. Him and his long-locked band began a set of 1970’s style straight-ahead rock – a bit soulful, a lot loud, with plenty of guitar noodling and hairflinging and just enough showboating to make you remember they are the ones in charge up there. Watt himself is up on the monitors quite a lot during his lengthy and impressive guitar solos, holding it aloft, and once playing it while holding it forward with extended arms as if he were handing a piece of firewood to someone. That is no small feat – if you’ve ever held an electric guitar, you know that’s a workout to hold one like that, never mind play it at the same time. His additional guitar player was mighty bendy, leaning back – wayyy back – while playing, so far that I feared collapse was imminent. He stayed on his feet though, whipping his hair around. Watt seemed to nearly slip off over the top of the monitors once or twice in his exuberance to prop a leg up there and play. To drive the point home on where they draw their influences, they performed a sizzling cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” I thought they had wandered into a new song when Watt asked the audience for lighters (I didn’t see if anyone complied – not anywhere around me), then bounced off the stage with his guitar to set up shop at a low partition wall by the raised mezzanine level along one side of the room. He plopped the guitar on top of the wall and played it like a lap steel while the crowd, who was very into this, by the way, clustered around him. It was pretty hard to see this happening – I was on the opposite side of the room, so I had no hope. I only know what this looked like by the below photograph taken by the on-duty photographer that night, who happened to be in a perfect spot to catch this. Back to the stage, they inserted the riff from The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” and then neatly circled back to “Whole Lotta Love.” That was a big and memorable end to an opening set. This guy is a bit of a fresh face out there, so get in on the ground floor – he’s going to rise fast.
A bit of awkwardness between sets as no house music came on and everyone was just standing around wondering if maybe he was going to come back out. Venue was jam-packed. With The Struts’ recent radio play, they have hooked a big, young crowd of incredibly enthusiastic fans. As the band emerged on the stage, amusingly to the theme tune from The Neverending Story (I wonder if they know that was filmed here in Vancouver?!), the audience just started to go nuts. It was like boy-band manic. Girls were losing it and screaming things like “I wanna have your babies!,” primarily directed at androgynously-beautiful, thoroughly-endearing vocalist Luke Spiller, who glittered onto the stage in a sequined top and heavy sparkling makeup that had him looking a bit more like Joan Jett than anything else. It was the first time in Vancouver for these UK boys, and they seemed to be loving it. Spiller asked the room to turn the lights on a few times so he could see… the floor, us, everything. Anyhow, in short, they were phenomenal to watch. Activity tumbling across every corner of the stage, but it was of course nearly impossible to take your eyes off of Spiller. I would have said he is a born frontman, but I also read an article with him where he mentioned something along the lines of good frontmen not just falling out of the sky, and how hard he worked on his stage persona over many many years. It has paid off, because he was absolutely in charge of the room, directing people to sit on the floor so he could walk among them and get the sides of the room into a yelling battle with each other. “Do you wanna kiss this?,” he asked as he spun around and pushed his rear in our direction, while the band struck up the matching song “Kiss This.” All around me, girls’ ovaries were shattering with each rock star thing he did, like high kicks, big cheeky grins, gymnastics-landings poses, and in a particularly cocky move, swiping his hand across his sweat-drenched face and flicking that hand with it’s sweat beads out across the crowd. He has a vocal reminiscent of an Ian Astbury, with a stage presence (as has been often stated) of a Mick Jagger and the flashy style of a Freddie Mercury or Brian Ferry.
Partway through the set, he disappeared and came back out in a cut-fringe teal sweater kind of thing, appropriately strutting back across the stage with a grin as the audience admired his new ensemble. Drummer Gethin Davies had a Welsh flag draped across his kit. I was mostly positioned in front of guitarist Adam Slack, who was also a lot of fun to watch, though his was a shadowy side of the stage and he went unnoticed a bit alongside the lead man. He pointed out into the crowd, stared down specific people, and hilariously, during one of Spiller’s treks around the room to perch on a central seating area or get the room warring, Slack took a seat on his monitor about 3 inches from the back of the girl beside me and neither of us noticed this for a very long time. He had one hand on his chin and was watching his bandmate with interest. Spiller’s banter was frequent, in a super poshy British rock accent, yelping to drive the point home, telling everyone to shut the f*ck up while he climbs off the stage, picking up peoples’ drinks from the stage edge to take a swig, and to fling accolades at us, as Vancouver is apparently a pretty huge market for them. They really got popular here very quickly. As they left the stage, they flung all manner of stuff out into the crowd – sticks, picks, recently-sweat-wiped towels.
Of course they came back for an encore, and that was quite a production as well. Davies came out first, stood on his stool and struck a Jesus pose behind his kit before simultaneously jumping off the stool and begin to play. Them out came bassist Jed Elliott, and the two of them played a pretty long jam. Then Slack returned, walked to the front and centre of the stage, leaned over the crowd and asked them for some love, but when he began to try to play, no sound issued from his guitar. He looked towards the sound booth and gestured questioningly, then directed his attention to his pedalboard, sheepishly slunk over and tapped a pedal. Oops. After another long jam, Spiller returned, now wearing a top that looked kind of like a big cozy pajama top, as Slack crouched down and gesticulated his way. Spiller pointed at him as he strolled back across the stage. The band was introduced, including a little poem for Davies, “The man on the seat who makes the beat to move your feet.” We also were told to put our “filthy f*cking hands together” for Slack. During the song “Where Did She Go,” Spiller tried to pluck a girl out of the crowd onto stage and she looked mortified so he gave up and just held her hand for a moment and then moved on. This is where he wandered back to the crowd to stand on the booths in the middle of the room, made us all shut up again, and then sang out to the room sans microphone. “When I say do you wanna rock, you say YEAH!” The audience thought this was amusing. Of course we do, yeesh! The crowd complied and we all hollered back and forth with him. Once he got back to the stage, it became apparent that they were still playing the same song – it was a one song encore, but the song went on for like 15 minutes. Spiller got us all to sit on the floor of the club one more time and at his command, we were to all leap up and boogie like never before. When that moment happened, there even was a bit of a mini mosh pit happening. They threw the music back and forth from the band to the crowd to the band and back again. They rolled the song outro into complete mayhem, stomping and kicking and sweating and panting. Spiller dropped to the floor as Slack electrified him back to life. The song faded and calliope music poured out of the speakers as the band took a bow, and threw some more stuff into the crowd. Spiller grabbed a set list, leaned over the stage edge, and dangled it just out of reach of the eager fans below. Then he crumpled it up in a ball and pitched it to the back of the room, and with that, they disappeared.
These guys are really bringing back the exciting heyday of rock n roll, when it was all still new, and all about breaking barriers and breaking convention. They are superbly exciting and are going to be able to appeal to a wide range of music fans. Look out for them – we’re all thinking these guys will be in a stadium before long!