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Words by Jared Bajkowski, photos by Anna Selle
White Reaper graced the recordBar stage this past Saturday, July 1st, alongside fuzz-poppers Psychic Heat and roots-rocker Ron Gallo. The Louisville rock ‘n’ rollers delivered on their World’s Best American Band promise with a turbulent, swaggering, and efficient set that changed the way I see the genealogy of rock and pop music up to the present. More on that later.
These fellas know how to immerse you. As soon as the band nodded ready, the air of the club shifted, and a great sucking feeling yanked at my belly as if a fellow cosmonaut forgot to close the airlock after returning from a spacewalk. In a snap, a hurricane came roaring past me, making my eyes water. At least that’s how it felt. The show was on in an instant, searing guitars squealing and wrenching in an electron melee. Esposito, the shorn-headed frontman, rallied us forward, yelling, “SCOOTUPSCOOTUPSCOOTUPSCOOTUPSCOOTUPSCOOTUP!” We obliged, of course. Then, goading the stragglers into the present: “Y’all paid to get in here, dintcha?” An argument for everyone. They never let up.
White Reaper were consummate performers, conjuring the show out of thin air and destroying the escape bridges back to the real world for the better part of the next hour. The songs that followed channeled pure vigor, the band tight as new spandex, with glossy, white hot guitars and drums that threatened to knock me supine (read: on my ass). Glimpses of reality poked through like breaks in a fever-dream, the band asking if there were any colors we would like to see from the stage lighting, if we had any requests for cover songs, etc. This led to “Mr. Brightside,” where the band played just long enough for us to believe we were now going to sit through the Killers’ hit for the umpteenth time, then suddenly pulling the rug out from under us and launching into the next song without missing a beat. Moments like this proved again and again that the band knew how to snatch us up, and we were thankful for it.
The band’s sound had me slipping into reverie at times, wondering what my parents might be doing at a show like this. Drinking, smoking, dancing, flirting — even reflecting, like I was? This was at least in part the sound of their youth, just as well as it was now mine. I imagined them with their own concerns, ambitions, desires, finding something that resonated in the sincere, John Hughesian rebellion the musicians were providing, just as I was. This kind of seductive teen revolt has echoed through time. The sleek veneer of White Reaper’s music, the arena-invoking guitars and anthemic melodies acting as the throughline, reminding me how much things in the rock (or, really, pop) world aren’t all that different from my parents’ day. I could hear Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, The Ramones, and The Runaways, but also The Strokes, and even contemporaries like King Tuff and Bass Drum of Death all present in White Reaper’s sonic character. I guess the Internet has helped us hang on to and even reinvent these sonic moods, such that few notions ever truly fade. Holding up all of these acts next to one another in comparison right there in the middle of the set and realizing their similarities was a nice little epiphany, all thanks to the World’s Best American Band.
I don’t know what the future will hold for the group, but they really must be experienced live to be fully appreciated. White Reaper brings a snarling ferocity that can and probably will unleash something within you, and I recommend paying them a visit if you get the chance.
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