Strut-ing their stuff

Richard Nevin glams up with the Struts.

The Struts
02 Institute
24th February

If it’s not a local bye-law then it soon will be, it’s accepted practise now and I shudder to think what would happen to me if I didn’t review a Struts gig without mention of Queen or Freddie Mercury, glam, classic rock or The Darkness. And I will; I’m no rebel, rebel.

This band don’t so much wear their influences as a badge of honour rather they carry a banner declaring their inspirations and like to shout it loudly from every stage they take to. Most of these stages have been away from Britain for the last few years, as finding their home country a tough nut to crack The Struts have been touring the US, earning rave reviews from both headline gigs and some pretty prestigious support slots to the likes of Foo Fighters and the Rolling Stones.

February sees the band return home and embark on their biggest British tour so far in order to try and finally break that barrier that keeps them off mainstream radio and confined to venues like the Institute in Digbeth, but such is their confidence and bravado they could’ve been headlining Wembley and for us punters the cost of a pint helped with that illusion.

The ticket was value for money however, with two support bands. I only caught the end of the first act, a drums/guitar duo who appeared to take their lead from Royal Blood. Second up was Kelsey Karter, caterwauling her way through a decent set of tunes and displaying all the attitude of a gobby sixteen year old hanging about in a bus stop in Shard End; she’s made waves with her obsession over Harry Styles which threatens to put her music in the shade. In keeping with the headliner, Karter’s shaggy haired lead guitarist appeared to have been seconded from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers in 1977; all wide lapels and moody looks.

The Struts don’t just appear on stage, they burst into view, frontman Luke Spiller immediately setting up a dialogue with the audience of both verbal and visual encouragement that would last throughout the gig, ably abetted by the rest of the band.

His attitude and outfits demonstrate his debt to Mercury, the music nakedly aping the classic rock of yesteryear, featuring quasi glam stompers and communal singalongs. We are constantly told to put our hands in the air, there are feet on monitors and those garrulous endings to some songs seem to last an age.

And the tunes, yes, they have the tunes, dripping in melody and catchy hooks, kicking off with a quick one-two of singles Primadonna Like Me and Body Talks, the rest of the set drawn from the band’s two albums with an extended version of Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark thrown in for good measure, Spiller inviting a young fan onstage to sing and dance along.

Bellying his moniker, guitarist Adam Slack impressed on the Les Paul, receiving a cake in honour of his birthday and being outed as a Villa fan at the same time, to a mixed response from the crowd but a smile from me, while Jedd Elliot and Gethin Thomas on bass and drums respectively hold everything together well.

Such is Spiller’s showmanship the gig verges on the edge of panto at times but unlike The Darkness, with whom the band are compared with on a regular basis, this horseplay stays the right side of silly and in these days of monochrome and earnest artists, to watch a band have such fun and take the audience with them not only harks back to a more innocent time but also echoes the era when burly blokes in make–up raised a smile during dark times.

Back then it was three day weeks and The Sweet, now Brexit and The Struts perhaps? And the audience were certainly happy to be swept along in such a tide of joy, bystanders were few and far between with most taking an active part both physically and vocally.

Rounding off with Could’ve Been Me, a paean to reaching for the stars, it’s still unclear whether The Struts will ever get there after ten years of trying, but even if they don’t, both they and their fans will have an absolute ball on the way.