The Struts – Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine, August 1st, 2016

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In 1975, a world where the majority of you were not even a twinkle in your Daddy’s eye, I asked my Mom if I could go to a KISS concert. The answer was a resounding NO because I was too young. Granted I was only 13, but her house, her rules and all that. I would go on to miss UFO, Cheap Trick, and a slew of others until finally, 2 years later, when I turned 15, she allowed me to go to my first concert. After that I would go to anything and everything I could afford and saw some great shows. Fast forward a few years. Okay quite a few years, and I now see and photograph practically anything I want and for free. Yeah, you could say I’m a bit spoiled but at-least I can admit it.

Most of the time I choose bands I really like or that I know something about, other times I’m asked to cover a show. It is always a pleasant surprise when I take in a show for a band I know nothing about and leave in awe. Allow me a moment to make my point here – Last year, 2015, brings two such shows to mind. Vintage Trouble, a band my editor asked me to cover, blew me away and goes down as one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and we’re talking nearly 40 years of concerts. I went on to buy everything the band put out and nearly one of everything from their merch table. Another highlight of last year was covering a Christina Perri concert. Totally not my scene, as the fan base is all young girls with their moms, so I figured I would go, shoot my allotted three songs, take in a couple more for good measure, and split early. Not only was the songwriting amazing, but her performance and the sound was some of the best I had ever heard. I have taken in quite a few shows since then and many have been brilliant. With all that in mind, believe me when I say that the show The Struts put on at Port City Music Hall was… – wait for it – The best show I have seen this year, and like The Vintage Trouble show last year, will go down as one of the best I have ever seen.

I saw the listing, liked the name, so I checked out a video and thought, yeah I could get into this. Little did I know how much I was going to like The Struts.

A few days prior to the show, I saw that Dorothy was going to be opening the show. I had seen Dorothy a few months earlier open for Halestorm and found them amazing so I was looking forward to seeing them again. Dorothy Martin, matriarch of the band, has a beautiful soulful voice that screams blues in the way Janis Joplin might have sounded if she was coming of age in this era instead of the 60s. Backed by a killer band with Mark Jackson on guitar, Gregg Cash on bass, and Zac Morris on drums, the band delivers some great vibes that seamlessly merge blues and metal in great melody. The songs, like the band, are strong, and I see a huge future for this band.

I got to the show early incase there was not a photo pit from which to shoot from. When I was told that there would indeed be one, I kind of lagged around outside until doors. This was an 18+ show so when the doors opened, there was a rush from the crowd to get to the stage. As I got closer, I realized that the barricade making up my photo pit was pushed up against the bass bins, leaving only a 2 foot by 4 foot empty space on each side, with no entrance or exit to be seen, I crawled under the barricade and took up residence in what I will from now on refer to as “my box.” The sold out crowd quickly filled in, and I was all of a sudden feeling very claustrophobic. The crowd seemed to be made up primarily of young women under the age of 21, but in between them were a few young men and fewer old bastards, like myself. As I got my camera ready for the sets, I spoke to a couple who appeared to be in their late 30s or so who had purchased the Meet & Greet package for the show. They had seen The Struts once before so we swapped stories from shows past, and then the lights went down.

The band, sans Dorothy, hit the stage and vamped on a bluesy riff, priming the audience, and as the music climbed to its climax, Dorothy Martin came running on the stage and launched into “Kiss It,” the opening track from their debut album ROCKISDEAD. The lighting for the first song was a bit dark, many greens and reds, which in photography verbiage means, This sucks!, but as the band rounded the turn into their next song, “Dark Nights,” the lights came up. Dorothy, clad in an oversized, ripped up Metallica shirt, black panties and torn fishnets – oh, and let’s not forget about those knee high boots! – is an anomaly in that she has the beauty of a flawless mannequin, the voice of a rock & blues goddess, and has a certain high class appeal yet sells slutty and sexy like nobody’s business. (See the photos attached.) Dorothy’s set was 45 minutes, typical for an opening slot but for a band with this much talent it went by too fast. I shot the entire set from “my box” which was sometimes a little too close to the action and I had to lean back into the audience to get a full body shots in.

I wanted to go out and buy a Dorothy T-shirt and CD, but even if I had managed to get out of this box there would be no getting back in, so I opted to stay put, turning down offers of beer and water to help ease the heat that was filling the venue. Honestly, I was afraid that I would be unable to get out of “my box” to use the restroom and that my pee dance would go down as part of the show.

After a quick stripping of Dorothy’s equipment and a replacement of monitors and mic stands, we were ready for The Struts. In other venues, maybe larger venues, the band has a huge backdrop with their logo on it, I really had hoped they would have had it up, but alas it was only a curtain.

Lights went down and on walked the band, and that was all the walking that happened for as soon as singer Luke Spiller hit that stage they were off and running, literally, and by the time they finished their first song Luke was dripping in sweat.

When shooting a band like The Struts, or even writing about them, it is hard not to only speak of or shoot photos of Luke. Not that the rest of the band are any less musicians, it’s just that when Luke comes on stage he demands that level of attention, and everyone stands up and takes notice. His voice reminds me of Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance, at least when he sings in true voice, but as soon as he goes for the screams there is no denying that Fredie Mercury’s voice was willed to this kid when he died. It is uncanny. Luke plays on that as he rolls his R’s the way Freddie did. Speaking to the tour manager after the show, I learned that he takes a lot of flak from journalists who feel that they are trying to be Queen or trying to write songs that sound old. I was told that instead, the band members all love that era of music and are in fact only doing the stuff they like. So if others like it great. But that they are not “trying” to sound like anything but what they get off on.

Okay, back to the show.

The band was doing a great job at trying to keep up, but again Luke is this ball of energy on stage and had me bobbing and weaving to get out of his way while in “my box.” Bassist, Jed Elliot, did a pretty good job keeping up, throwing his bass around and pointing it at the crowd and my camera. Drummer. Gethen Davies, also did a great job, but tethered to a drum throne it is always hard to command attention but he somehow he got it done. Guitarist. Adam Slack, was the only one I had a hard time getting photos of – not sure if he was sick or shy or just camera shy, but he didn’t move around all that much, and when he did, he kept his head down. But even in his dark corner of the stage, he kept the riffs coming and the energy was in the music.

Stuck in “my box” at times was quite uncomfortable, not only the claustrophobia but also the vulnerability I felt when Luke stuck his ass in my face and introduced the fifth song, “Anyone want to KISS THIS?” Okay, I thought, I need an adult. The crowd went wild as they did through the entire show, screaming and reaching out to touch the band, cell phone cameras all capturing live feeds, videos and stills of the action on stage.

Luke went through a few costume changes, dropping his mirrored jacket to expose a 60s looking Hendrix shawl, to a black cape thing that looked as if it came from Freddie Mercury’s own wardrobe.

At one point in the evening Luke got closer and closer to my camera. I kept backing up, but when you only have 2 feet in which to move…well, before I knew it he was on me, and he licked my lens filter. He smiled as he leapt away finishing the song. At the end of the song he looked at me with a grin that I swear I saw on Tim Curry’s portrayal of the clown in IT, and he asked, “Do you like my saliva?” without missing a beat. I replied, “I’ll never wash this lens again.” He laughed and repeated my words into the mic. I, of course, immediately wiped the lens as best I could in the box and continued to shoot.

About 4 songs from the 13 song set, I was tapped on the shoulder by the tour manager Alex who motioned me out of the box. I handed him my camera bag and as I leapt up onto one of the bass bins to get out, Luke came over and grabbed me asking, “Where do you think you’re going?” He laughed and continued singing. Alex apologized that he couldn’t let me continue to shoot, but I had what I needed. Sure, I would’ve loved to have finished the set, but I was just happy to be there. From the side of the stage, I watched the rest of the songs and one final costume change.

Luke and the band had them eating out of their hands. He got everyone in the place to get down on the floor and jump into the air, everyone sang choruses, and even Luke seemed to be genuinely amazed that they knew all the lyrics – even songs that have yet to receive airplay.

At one point, Luke announced that when the album was released in England in 2014 they could not get any airplay, but when they re-released it here in The States that radio stations all over were played their stuff. After that visibility, they were getting asked to join big tours and were just so happy that we liked the material.

The show done, and with a huge smile still plastered on my face, I turned to tour manager Alex and said, “Well, you are going to get a great review from Maine Music News. That was fucking AWESOME!” He seemed pleased with my response. On the way out I spent nearly $100 on tour merchandise, 2 T-shirts, an album (yes, vinyl) and a CD. Alex took the album back stage and got it signed for me. He also grabbed me a couple of Adam’s guitar picks, so now I just need a couple of Jed’s to complete the set.

I can’t express how amazing The Struts show was. If you have any doubts, check out their videos on Youtube or find some live footage. It’ll surely blow you away, and look for them to blow up into something huge. Mark my words, talent like this doesn’t come around often, especially in this day and age.

Dorothy setlist:

Kiss It – Dark Nights – Gun in My Hand – Wicked Ones – Woman – After Midnight – Raise Hell – Whiskey Fever

The Struts setlist:

I Just Know – Roll Up –Times Are Changing – Could’ve Been Me – The Ol’ Switcharoo – Kiss This – Mary Go Round – Dirty Sexy Money – Lets Make This Happen – Young Stars – Put Your Money On Me – Only Just A Call Away

Encore: Black Swan – Where Did She Go?

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