I went to The Strypes’ second appearance in Toronto fully expecting not to like them. Don’t get me wrong: everything I’d heard about them headed in was absolutely positive. They performed in Toronto at the beginning of the year, and people raved about the quartet’s SXSW sets; reveled at the Irish band’s youth and deft hand at rock n’ roll; and spoke highly of their ability to recall eras and styles long lost. I thought: “sounds like a bunch of hype.”
I’m happy to admit that I was wrong.
Yes, there are clichés to what they do. There’s showboating; there are definite remarks of adorableness brought up by the older audience (read: parents) in attendance; and The Strypes wear their influences pinned firmly to their sleeves. The latter is something made all the more noticeable by their youth – not to mention the liberal helping of covers that fleshed out their set. So if there’s a textbook on how to be in a UK rock n’ roll band then a) give me a copy; and b) The Strypes have definitely studied it, down to the most obscure footnote.
But in spite of these clichés, the greatest thing about The Strypes is the fact that none of it seems novel. They perform with conviction and they do it all exceptionally well. Even if it has all been done before (and it has,) it doesn’t matter. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and yeah – there’s a reason why people love what they do. Importantly: you go home wanting to listen to The Strypes – not The Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
So for the parents and their children that filled in much of the venue’s 600-person capacity, it’s clear there’s an appetite for rock n’ roll. If it just so happens to come in the form of four young gentlemen (The Strypes’ ages range from 16 to 18, inevitably making me question all of my life choices) in immaculate mod clothing, then hey – all the better.
The band kept the entirety of their hour-long set brisk and fast-paced, a guitar solo from Josh McClorey leading things off. The first song bled easily into the second – blink and you would have missed the transition – and by the time I knew it, they were already well into their material, including tracks from their Snapshot debut.
Lead vocalist Ross Farrelly kept himself busy throughout the night, the band’s youngest member switching between fast-paced vocals; swinging around his microphone; making playing a harmonica seem far too easy; and liberally using his tambourine. (Side note: he’s still at the age where I can forgive him for wearing sunglasses on stage, but I’m not sure how long that will last.) With Farrelly in particular, there’s a definite aura of the Arctic Monkeys to him both vocally and stylistically. As Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has grown up in the musical spotlight and proved it can be done gracefully and successfully, the future looks pretty bright for his young contemporary.
“I Don’t Wanna Know” was very much reminiscent of the Arctic Monkeys. It also saw McClorey deliver his guitar solo with confidence as Evan Walsh provided strong accompaniment in his percussion. A big rock n’ roll ending ensued, filling in another square on the rock n’ roll bingo scorecard.
A cover of The Coasters’ 1958 song “I’m a Hog For You” played up The Strypes accents in their harmonies, Peter O’Hanlon coming through on bass. Another cover followed it: Bo Diddley’s 1962 song “I Can Tell.” Okay, so The Strypes have cool parents. Check. They also pulled this one off very well, Farrelly’s voice dipping deep, the bass and drums accompanying him as he belted out the final line to much applause.
“I’m loving this gig, I’m loving this gig,” said McClorey before introducing “Angel Eyes,” another from Snapshot. It was a song they dedicated to Sophia – an exceptionally young girl sitting off to the side of the stage, having the time of her life (as were her parents, it should be noted.) “She’s already infinitely cooler than anyone else in this room,” McClorey noted. No arguments there.
Other highlights came with “Perfect Storm,” one McClorey asked the crowd to go “bats*** crazy” for. He took lead vocals on the number, Farrelly occupying himself on harmonica duty instead. “Mystery Man” also played well, another swinging song that was worth a shimmy or a jive or whatever kind of dance move is worth throwing back to.
The band ended their set with the blistering “Heart of the City,” a Nick Lowe cover that came complete with a cacophonic ending and the (gentle) tossing of a guitar. All very rock n’ roll and something that understandably had the audience calling them back for another song.
The band obliged, returning for another Bo Diddley cover – this time 1962’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover.” As they left the stage, the audience tried to draw them back for a second encore. There was the brief hope that perhaps we’d be treated to another energetic song from a band certainly up for the performance – but alas, it was not meant to be and the houselights soon came back on.
It’s cool though, because if there’s one thing the “school of rock n’ roll” textbook should say it’s: always keep ‘em wanting more. You get the sense that with The Strypes, there’s a lot more to come and yes indeed, a lot more people bound to fall in love with it – hype be damned.
Thank to Live Nation Ontario for media access.