Chicago – The Windy City was invaded by Brits and New Englanders, and it was glorious! We gladly surrendered to the rock of Highly Suspect and The Struts. Brooklyn based, Massachusetts born and bred trio Highly Suspect and English foursome The Struts played not one, but two, sold-out shows at Lincoln Hall. Excited fans packed in, filling up the ground floor and balcony, to experience gritty, sexy rock and roll at its finest.
Highly Suspect first appeared on our radar in 2014 when they played Lollapalooza. My have the guys grown since then! Back then, twins Rich and Ryan Meyer, along with their best friend Johnny Stevens, were fresh off of tour with Chicago’s very own Chevelle, and had yet to release an LP. They told Best New Bands in an interview that they were ready to “spearhead” a rock and roll resurgence. Flash forward to 2015: Highly Suspect toured with Scott Weiland & The Wildabouts and Catfish & The Bottlemen, played Bonnaroo, and released their debut full-length Mister Asylum (300 Entertainment), doing a mighty fine job at working towards that goal.
The guys sauntered on stage, bathed in darkness, looking extra mysterious, before starting the night out with “Lost.” The lone spot light shone on Johnny Stevens, who wore a hat and hoodie, keeping his face hidden. The Chicago humidity seeping into the building forced that hoodie off. The baseball hat fell to the floor. Still, Stevens remained cloaked in mystique, as his hair covered much of his face, until he went wild, thrashing and jumping around. Whistles and cheers escaped the crowd.
“Bathsalts,” the song that first gained Highly Suspect attention, followed, along with “F**k Me Up,” off Mister Asylum. “Mom” was phenomenal, with so much soul and fabulous guitar riffs. Halfway through the set, Stevens lit a cigarette, took a drag, and then passed it over to bassist Rich Meyer. Smoke floated over the dim stage, and the ambers glowed orange, as he took a smoke, then passed it to his brother. Security looked shocked, yet amused with the balls on these three. Smiles and cheers spread.
The guys also played the unreleased song “Fire in Bedstuy,” Stevens told the audience to bounce, and they did, along with him, creating an exhilarating inferno of their own. Of course Highly suspect played the single “Lydia,” which has been getting plenty of radio play in Chicago. Fans sang along and rocked fists in the air. Highly Suspect finished the night with “Claudeland.” Stevens shouted, “Dance motherf**kers!” The room went crazy.
The Struts were up next. I’ll be honest, I knew nothing of these Englishmen, other than the single “Could Have Been Me” has been playing pretty much non-stop on Chicago’s 101WKQX, and DJ Lauren O’Neil has been going on and on about how great these guys are. Well Lauren, I get it now! If Queen and The Rolling Stones had a baby, that was nannied by David Bowie, that beautiful child would be The Struts! For anyone who thinks rock and roll is dead, you clearly haven’t been to see The Struts live. Like Highly Suspect, it’s clear The Struts have set out to bring rock and roll back, mixing in a heavy dose of glam rock, a bit of Britpop, and a touch of punk.
Frontman Luke Spiller was a colorful ball of energy, whipping around stage, hair flying, with eyeliner and a dark shadow on point. He sparkled under the lights, in his changing fashion, that he has a hand in creating. Guitarist Adam Slack, bassist Jed Elliot, and drummer Gethin Davies look the part of badass rock stars, too. The rockers played songs off their debut Everybody Wants, like “Could Have Been Me” and “Dirty Sexy Money.” At one point, Spiller jumped off stage, into the crowd, and motioned for fans to move. As he spread his arms, his glowing shirt sleeves spread like crimson dragon wings, and fans quickly backed up at once, parting like the Red Sea. Those closest to him sat down, staring up at Spiller, in awe. He asked each side to repeat after him, singing together, as loud as they could, the left and right competing. Spiller looked disappointed. “Is that all you got, Chicago?” The crowd roared. Even those atop the balcony and standing along the stairs in back bellowed verses from their lungs. Spiller smiled. I smiled too, knowing I was witnessing a real rebirth of rock and roll.
I suggest you see The Struts sooner rather than later, while you can still catch them playing small clubs, because these guys will surely be playing arena shows once word gets out how damn spectacular they are. The Struts are touring North America all Fall. Tour dates can be found on the band’s Facebook.
Highly Suspect will be touring the U.S. throughout October and will be heading to the U.K. at the start of 2016. A list of tour dates is available on the Highly Suspect Facebook page. You can also catch Highly Suspect on TV, performing on Late Night with Seth Meyers on September 30. Mister Asylum is available for purchase on iTunes.
Photos by Sarah Hess for BestNewBands.com
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.