The good news is that times are changing. What used to be acceptable 'boys will be boys'/locker room talk/"Well that's how things were back then" creepiness is now being identified and called out for what it is: predatory behavior and in a lot of cases, sexual assault. And by no means am I unfurling my giant George W. Bush "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner and saying that the #metoo movement successfully ended sexism and sexual assault. But it does seem like there's never been a time where these kinds of things have been taken more seriously, especially in pop culture.
Which leads us to the weird rabbit hole that I'm sure we've all thought about at some point or another over the last few years when it comes to separating the potentially problematic artist from the art. Can you still enjoy the music if the person that made it does truly horrible things? For a lot of fans, the answer seems to be an unusually strong 'yes'. Is it more acceptable if those things happened long enough ago and are well known enough that no one thinks about it much (Google 'Steven Tyler teenager' sometime)? Is it easier not to think about it if the artist is no longer alive to be a constant reminder a la Michael Jackson? Or are some people just truly bulletproof, like Chris Brown who is known to have brutally assaulted Rihanna, never showed any real remorse, and might be more popular now than ever?
The reason I bring any of this up is that I was in for a night of glam rock extravagance with The Struts bringing their Remember The Name tour to Chicago's Riviera Theater, and historically glam rock has had its own flirtations with being PROBLEMATIC. While inappropriate behavior can be traced all the way back to some of the original glam artists out of the UK (the less you learn about some of David Bowie's past, the better), as we've shown time and time again for almost 250 years, America can take anything and make it more vile. Hair metal, glam's black sheep cousin that originated up and down the Sunset Strip during the 80's, checked all the boxes for 'things that seemed normal then that did NOT age well': misogyny, taking advantage of underage girls, destruction, homophobia. And if you're asking yourself if I'm describing the lyrics or the band members actual real-life behavior, the answer is a resounding "yes".
I want to make a few things clear. First off, I love 80's hair metal. I Shout at the Devil at least twice a month. And I'm not saying that all glam/hair rockers fall into the bucket of being sketchy. But with glam rock as a whole being such a product of a specific era, both in style and subject matter, is there still a place for it in 2023? With questionable behavior built into its very DNA, is there still room for this kind of music in the modern world?
I'm very hesitant to compare anyone to Mick Jagger. First off, 99% of the time, whoever is saying it is wrong. There's literally been only one Mick Jagger ever and that's just an impossible comparison to throw out there and doesn't really do anyone any good.
Now having said all that, Mac Saturn frontman Carson Macc has some strong Jagger vibes. Compelling stage presence, blues-infused singing voice, a wardrobe that seemed to disappear one item at a time throughout the set - Macc checks a lot of the boxes. A former drummer himself, Macc's sense of rhythm and uncanny ability to know exactly when to emphasize just the right notes make him all the more effective of a frontman. And while he may not end up being the next frontman to hold the title Greatest Lead Singer Alive like Mick has from time to time, whatever it is that Mick has...Macc's got it too.
Every Mick needs his Keith, and guitarist Nick Barone fills the role in spades. A childhood friend and musical partner of Macc's, their chemistry onstage is palpable, their performances feeding off one another in a feedback loop of kickass riffs and classic rock howls. Perfectly rounded out by bassist Jive Moses, drummer Angelo Coppola, guitarist Mike Moody, and keyboardist Evan Mercer, their throwback sound and Detroit origins might invite Greta Van Fleet comparisons. But their sound leans much more into Detroit's Motown sound rather than a straightforward Zeppelin vibe, with mixes of everything from The Doors to Silvertide thrown in to boot.
The good news is that I got a pretty quick answer to my question of "Is glam rock still relevant in 2023?" as the Struts took the stage to thunderous applause as they launched into fan-favorite "Dirty Sexy Money" to kick off the night. The better news is that the band was in absolute rare form on this night, keeping the energy high enough during their first six songs that the Riv was getting almost uncomfortably hot. No one in the audience seemed to mind or even notice, as frontman Luke Spiller kept them in the palm of his hand the entire time. If he wanted them to dance, they danced their asses off. If he wanted them to jump, they jumped their...legs off? And before you accuse me of exaggeration for the sake of wordplay, Spiller had the entire audience literally crouching on the ground leading up to the final chorus of "Where Did She Go", just so everyone could jump in the air as one when the final chorus kicked in. And while making a Freddie Mercury comparison with Spiller feels equal parts lazy, already done, and putting me over the limit of "impossible frontman comparisons you can make in one review", he has an actual Freddie Mercury Funko pop perched on his piano, so it's not like he isn't inviting such comparisons to be made. That's a pretty ballsy statement to throw out about your own band, but Spiller and the rest of the band (guitarist Adam Slack, bassist Jed Elliott, and drummer Gethin Davies) absolutely back it up.
The reason The Struts are able to take a genre like glam rock, that's largely rooted in such a different time, and make it both fresh and relatable to today's audience is because they focus on the things that don't go out of style. Lyrics like "I sleep 'til noon for breakfast/I have a little smoke, then I get up and go/And yes, I'm always two hours late for work, babe" will always resonate with 99% of the country. And while the subject matter of their songs may not delve into the potentially inappropriate directions of their glam predecessors, it's not like they're saints themselves. In songs like "Primadonna Like Me", Spiller flat-out invites the audience to join him in his diva-like behavior. The difference between the old days and now is like...just don't sexually harass anyone while you do it. Problem solved!
Singing songs about the hardships of the common person and longing to just cut loose and have a good time? That message being delivered by a straight man covered in equal parts sequin and glitter eyeshadow? On the eve of Chicago's Pride parade of all weekends? One could argue there's never been a better or more relevant time for glam rock in recent memory than right now.
You know, as long as it's all consentual and above board.
The Remember The Name tour continues in the US through July 23.
The Struts Setlist - The Riviera Theater, Chicago 6.23.23
Dirty Sexy Money
Fallin' With Me
Too Good at Raising Hell
Primadonna Like Me
All Dressed Up (And Nowhere to Go)
One Night Only
Mary Go Round
In Love With a Camera/Cool/Matter of Time/Wild Child/Can't Sleep/Somebody New
Royals (Lourde cover)
I Do It So Well
Where Did She Go
Put Your Money On Me
Could Have Been Me