The Strypes, a classic blues/rock/honky-tonk band of four boys (more boys than men at age 17) from Ireland put on the best live show of 2014 I’ve seen so far last night at Bowery Ballroom, NYC. No question. Articles circulating about alternative bands complain about their lack of charisma and identifiable “star-power” nowadays, and The Strypes are the perfect antithesis to that argument.
The band was introduced by none other than BP Fallon, a famous Irish DJ, who entered stage in a suit, white hair covered by a classic bowler cap. He then began to recite a poem about believing: “I believe in Jerry Lee, I believe in you and me”. The poem (of course) ended with the rousing, “And I believe in The Strypes!” At this cue, the boys burst on stage looking oh so dapper and suave: Ross (lead vocals, harmonica) in his red plaid suit and Josh (guitar, vocals) in a perfectly tailored grey suit. I looked down at my Save Ferris tee, obviously underdressed.
Their set was hella-fast, and jam-packed with songs. They played at least 20 songs in total, if not more. But the speed! They aren’t messin’ round when they say they play “speed blues”. They were playing so fast that it was impossible to jump around AND keep up with the music. Their technique on all instruments was astounding. Seeing 17 year-olds play with such impossible skill makes me a) feel old at 20 and b) question what the hell I did with my formative years.
They kicked off the set with their current single “What A Shame” that laments how one rising star is forced to conform to the industry. Josh actually took over vocals to sing “She’s So Fine” a few songs later. The song writing for this album is very simple and typically blues-structured, but they also turn typical sayings on their head as in “She’s So Fine”: “She floats like a bee but she stings like a butterfly”. One of my favorites off the album, “I’m A Hog For You Baby” works this same effect using the tale of the three little pigs. Josh later asked us for a little sing-along participation, explaining, “It’ll be easy. All you have to do is follow Ross,” which proved extremely difficult. But the crowd tried to replicate his howling “whoaaaahs” anyway and ended up in giggles about how bad we sounded in comparison.
The element that made their live show was the unabashed confidence. Peter (bass) shushed the crowd a couple of times just so he could come back in with an all-the-more roaring bassline. Josh almost predatorily searched the crowd for anyone who wasn’t having fun as if to say, “I see you and you better pick it up!” The moments where I could steal myself to glance at Evan on his drum pedestal, he was doing so many lightning fast shenanigans with his drumsticks I couldn’t keep up. You know in School of Rock when Jack Black teaches the power stance? [Clip here.]Yeah. That was Ross. Ross (lead vocals and harmonica) was the eye of the storm in his black Ray Ban sunglasses. With all the motion and energy around him, he was the center, calm as ever. Not to say he didn’t have his raging harmonica solo moments, which he definitely did. But even when his mic gave out, he just calmly (without missing a word) switched over to Peter’s till the problem was solved.
Speaking of technical difficulties, they rocked it so hard that just before the last few songs, Peter (bass) actually broke his amp. Now that’s a rock show. It’s not about the glitzy, showy moves, but the pure unadulterated energy. And in that state, shit happens. Whew! Still winded from the show.
With all the negative (and blasphemous) hearsay that “Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead” and that furthermore all the popular Alt bands these days suffer from some apparent “charisma deficit”, that “[W]e’re saddled with mock stars: guys with paltry backstories, little apparent fire under their asses, and indifferent bedhead,” as this highly questionable article argues, The Strypes prove that’s all a load of bullshit. Dressed in their swanky suits, full of adolescent fire, and marked by unquestionable confidence and character, The Strypes kindle anew the life force of blues, rock, just music in general. They make you believe again in the power of music and the live show. So to you, BP Fallon: I believe in The Strypes, too.
Check out their debut album Snapshot