Few bands have done what The Struts have in their 10-year run as one of Britain’s most colourful rock bands. Their eclectic tour de force of high-energy chart players, which combine brazen chord thrashing with a contemporary pulse, has caught the attention of punters and icons alike.
The Struts – Shepherd’s Bush Empire. 14 July 2022.
Words: Monty Sewell
Photography: Robert Sutton
Having previously supported the likes of The Rolling Stones, Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, The Who and The Foo Fighters, when they announced their six-date headline homecoming tour in the UK, it wasn’t met with anything but relieved excitement. Over the years, they’ve built up a reputable following and a respected finesse, demonstrated by their most recent album, Strange Days collaborations (Tom Morello, Phil Collins, Joe Elliot and Albert Hammond Jr… I mean, come on!).
And if image is as important to a band as their music, then having legendary fashion designer Zandra Rhodes (Freddie Mercury, Marc Bolan, Diana Princess of Wales) dressing you speaks for itself. The Struts know it, whatever it may be.
Heading over to the copper-bottomed O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire amidst the heatwave of a generation, it was bound to be a good night. The Struts laid down the concrete foundations of their early career with a heavy cement mixture made up of flawless showmanship and minimal scandal, locking themselves in as the guaranteed good-time guys who would almost unquestionably always pull off a decent show.
Though this would be my first time seeing them live, I had already heard copious amounts of praise for flamboyant frontman Luke Spillers’s image-defining moves and the band’s overall professional debonair. So that being said, my only real concern was how good of an air conditioning unit the venue would have. 30°C is never pleasant in a country that goes to unprepared pots every time the weather is anything other than ‘mild’.
Supporting tonight was Cardinal Black, who also have an interesting story smattered with wisps of stardom. The initial band formation happened back in 2010 and was set for the big stuff after a call from Guns N’ Roses’ manager got the guys over to America to record their debut album.
The trip did not prove conducive to their musical creations, with lead singer Tom Hollister calling time on the group and heading back home. Fast forward to 2021, and Cardinal Black are back on it, having jumped back onto the charts with two singles and an EP under the eyes of an industry who like what they see.
The band play through their EP with a calming dexterity which shows off Hollister’s soulful vocals and lead guitarist Chris Buck’s solo-centric work. During the decade-long break of the band, Buck had his own rise to fame, being voted “Best New Guitarist in the World’ in 2019. This was just one feat of a successful career which now lends much to Cardinal Black’s live show as he leads the instrumental with his stupendous playing throughout.
Tell Me How It Feels is the notable play-through, whilst Rise Up makes for an impressive introduction. Warm Love and Where Did You Go feeds off the live addition of keys as stand-in bassist Will Davies is thick string hitting perfection after only one rehearsal and three shows.
Jump In, I’m Ready, and Half Way There also make appearances before they sign off with Tied Up In Blue. Their live show has added depths and lengthened parts which make for quite a different experience from their recordings. They keep to a classy, understated visuality which leaves room for the music to do the talking.
A short interlude for the big setup and final soundcheck before The Struts take to the stage opens the gates for me to find and secure the best possible viewing spot. The venue is well packed with a versatile crowd of all ages and seemingly all walks of life. The ol’ fascination with musical pack mentality is rife as ever, but tonight there is definitely a good mixture about.
The mammoth Union Jack flag backdrop is dramatically lit up by dancing lights of all colours as the sound of sirens cuts through the crowd in silence for just a moment before cheers for the band to enter erupt. Jed Elliot (bass), Adam Slack (guitar) and Gethin Davies (drums) come on stage, all dressed in matching black and royal purple shirt ensembles. It’s a little bit western and a whole lot of style.
Slack opens on his gold-rimmed Gibson Les Paul with a solo before the guys launch into Primadonna Like Me. Frontman extraordinaire Luke Spiller bounded onstage in a wonderfully vivacious buttoned-down purple satin shirt and flared trousers. Sporting a newly dyed blonde head of hair and blue eyeshadow, he’s the epitome of a rockstar with nothing to prove but his own fashion ingenuity.
The Struts head into the insatiably bounce-fuelled Body Talks. Jed Elliot, on bass, launches himself around the stage to the beat, making me wonder how on earth he plays that well whilst his feet move that much. Kiss This, from their acclaimed first album, is the hip swaying groover where Spiller opens his vocals up, quite rightly ‘strutting’ across each corner of the stage. It’s his self-choreography, the way he moves to each twinge and flick of the beat, which makes it impossible not to watch him.
Planet Rock playlisted I Hate How Much I Want You secures Spiller as the crowd-appointed conductor of the night, reaching for and receiving ‘oi!’s from his audience on demand. Fire Part 1 is accompanied by a complimentary light show that sets the stage alight as Slack provides a virtuoso lengthened solo.
One Night Only comes next before Spiller turns to towel dry his face. Probably much needed. However, the four of them seem to be the kind of band who annoyingly remain great looking throughout a high-temperature set.
“Anyone feeling a bit dirty this evening? A bit sexy?!”
The golden words have been spoken by Spiller, and his fans know what comes next. Dirty Sexy Money is a wrath of energy before the guys up the game by giving us the worldwide debut of their new single, Are You Falling With Me. About a minute in, and with the crowd responding as they do, you’d have thought it’d been a favourite on their discography for years. Keep an eye out for the release, and you’ll have the damn catchy chorus in your head for days.
Low Key In Love garnishes a vibrant feeling from each emotive line before the rhythm section leaves the stage, and an acoustic guitar is handed to Slack. Spiller addresses the venue in his usual ‘known-him-for-years’ manner, asking the team to turn off all the lights and for the audience to shine the torches on their phones, creating an ambience for Mary Go Round. Never thought I’d say this, but tonight phones were used at a gig in a productive way. I’m in no doubt it’s a trend that may catch on soon, so hear it when I say The Struts were one of the first.
Next up is Put Your Money On Me, which is followed by the absolute behemoth of a mashup track. Featuring sections from Put Your Hands Up, These Times Are Changing, Bulletproof Baby, All Dressed Up (With Nowhere to Go), Only Just A Call Away, and Where Did She Go, it’s a feat not seen or often heard these days, and after tonight I’m not sure why.
A Chris Isaak cover of Wicked Game is appropriately emotive before the Tom Morello collaboration Wild Child, and I Do It So Well bring up the rear. The entire room is split into left vs right sing-off after a true London band introduction: “so who makes the beat to move your cockney feet?!”
After spending the past hour and a half pogo-sticking around the Empire, it’s a miracle the audience still has energy, but their loyal love for The Struts is translucent, and they belt out for an encore, which they, of course, get. Spiller takes to his white piano to play Strange Days from their 2020 album release, and then the whole band joins for their biggest hit, Could Have Been Me.
If I could describe The Struts in three words, it would most certainly be ‘bloody, good, entertainment’. Spiller is prodigious in everything he does, with comparisons to Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury not overstated one bit.
Whether your genre of favour or not, it’s impossible not to leave a Struts gig without a smile. It’s lyrical zest. It’s audience love. It’s an offering and a claim to true rock’ n’ roll good times with an earnestness that never overspills into pretension.
The Struts continue their ride to the top.