Photos by Lauren O’Leary
In today’s world, it’s not uncommon for concertgoers to view the stage through their phone screens, trying to preserve their memories through film. Although I’m often guilty of this, when I saw Nightly, Greta Van Fleet, and The Struts at Rams Head Live, my phone stayed in my pocket for the majority of the night. I was too wrapped up in the moment—the chanting crowds, the guitar solos, the stylish retro outfits—to even think about focusing on anything but what was in front of me. The Struts—and their opening acts—put on the kind of show that you wouldn’t want to look away from for a second.
Nightly, comprised of cousins Jonathan Capeci (vocals) and Joey Beretta (guitar), was the first band to take the stage. Unlike Greta Van Fleet and The Struts, which are undoubtedly rock bands, they have a glossy alt-pop sound that incorporates electronic instrumentation, and their outfits make them look more like street style models than time travelers from the ’70s. Thus, I was curious to see how the audience members would respond to them. Luckily, they were receptive—as they should have been. Nightly’s brooding, hook-heavy songs, all of which could have been singles, successfully eased us into the concert mindset. Although they might have been sonically different from the other acts on the bill, they prepared us for them well by getting us to loosen up and move to the throbbing beat.
When Nightly performed, the smooth sound of No Vacancy, the debut EP that they played for us, took on more of an edge due to Capeci’s passionate vocals and Beretta’s powerful guitar. The repeated plea in “Talk to Me”‘s chorus was more urgent. The instrumental interlude following the line “love you but I gotta let go/XO” in the single “XO” was forceful and empowering. The sober lyrics of “No Vacancy” inspired many people to wave their phone flashlights in the air. These moments were made even more enthralling by the interaction between the two musicians. Oftentimes, one would stride over to the other mid-song, and the two would make confident eye contact before nodding their heads and bouncing in unison. This visible cousin connection added humanity to Nightly, making them all the more entertaining to watch.
Next up was Greta Van Fleet, a set of rock and rollers from Frankenmuth, Michigan. Remember these guys, because if there’s any justice in the rock world, you’re sure to hear about them later. The band is named after a town elder, but all of the members are relatively young. Josh and Jake Kiszka, the twins who serve as its vocalist and guitarist, are 21. Their brother, bassist Sam Kiszka, is 18; so is the band’s drummer, Danny Wagner. Yet they played music that could have come from the age of larger-than-life rock bands like Led Zeppelin, and they were capable of commanding a crowd that included a sizable amount of adults in their 30s and 40s.
At ease in costumes that evoked the wild ’60s and ’70s, Greta Van Fleet looked like they had just stepped out of Rock Scene magazine or a Guitar Hero game. Josh’s outfit was particularly unique—face paint, a floral-print t-shirt, and jewelry that sparkled under the lights. Josh is the kind of frontman whose performance surely turns up in plenty of concertgoers’ post-show conversations. In almost every song, he hit and held some impressive notes, his voice never wavering. He also engaged the crowd. At one point, he waved back at a few audience members, and more and more people across the arena started waving, already invested in the band. This interaction reflected the general attitude of admiration that filled the venue while Greta Van Fleet was onstage. When Josh sang an especially astounding note, everyone erupted into applause that lasted a good thirty seconds. When Jake played a wild guitar solo with the guitar held behind his back, the crowd went crazy. I got the sense that the room was rooting for the new band’s success, not just in that moment but in the future—and with good reason. Greta Van Fleet clearly has all the ingredients they need to make a great career, from the powerful riffs of songs like “Highway Tune” to their visible exuberance onstage.
Last but certainly not least was The Struts. Throughout the night, a banner with their name on it had loomed over the stage, constantly reminding the audience of the grand finale that was to come. Finally, the lights went out and a voice proclaimed, “You’ll all see that Everybody Wants… The Struts!”, referencing the name of the band’s album.
The statement was not a lie. Cheers instantly erupted from everyone in the room, from teenage girls to a very enthusiastic elderly man. It took me a second to realize that there were only three band members onstage. Then Luke Spiller, the lead vocalist, ran on and jumped right into singing “Put Your Hands Up,” during which the crowd happily did exactly as the chorus said. At this point, it’s become almost cliché to compare Luke Spiller to Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger, but the comparisons ring true. His voice has Mercury’s power, tone, and clarity; his sequined costumes and dance moves could have come straight out of the Let It Bleed era. It’s no wonder that so many age groups were represented in the venue.
Spiller, a rock and roll ringleader who always referred to us as “ladies and gentlemen,” had a whole bag of tricks to keep us hooked. One of them was the classic sing-off, pitting the left side of the room against the right. Another was simply telling the audience what to do. Several times, he yelled, “Jump!”, setting the whole crowd in motion. Once, he just said, “Let’s scream!” and gleefully smiled as people began to shriek for no reason at all. He also did not one, but two costume changes. (As someone who hasn’t seen a costume change since the Cheetah Girls’ last tour, I was surprised and delighted by this.) Perhaps the most memorable Spiller moment, though, occurred when Spiller stopped to open up about how the U.K. hadn’t quite embraced the Struts and he was endlessly grateful for the warm welcome they received in the States.
Of course, although Spiller was the star of the show, the other members of The Struts—Adam Slack on guitar, Gethin Davies on drums, and Jed Elliott on bass—were indispensable to its success, as well. Due to them, the music was charged with energy and even more impressive than the record. Every song they played provided the ideal environment for a sing-along, from the silly, upbeat “The Ol’ Switcheroo” to the lively “Kiss This” to the epic “Only Just a Call Away,” which featured a notable guitar solo from Slack. It was evident that all four musicians were having the time of their lives—so it was easy for the audience to have a phenomenal time, as well.
Near the end of the concert, Spiller instructed us all to crouch and then leap toward the sky in one coordinated wave of jubilation. After the chaos had died down, he said, “God bless America” in a tone more subdued than the one he had been using throughout the night. This moment of sincerity was the perfect reminder of what makes The Struts so special—behind all the flashiness and fun refrains, there’s a sense of honesty and optimism that makes their music glow. Let’s hope they keep on strutting for years to come.