We all have that one friend that just “doesn’t really see the point” of live music. No matter how much you try to convince them, they can’t seem to get over the idea that they could “just be listening to the same music in the comfort of their own home.” Even in the golden age of concerts that we now live in (Better sound systems! More extensive tours! More venues to choose from than ever!) certain people refuse to stray from this close-minded viewpoint. Sometimes there are even music bloggers who stand by it (who hurt you, Channing Kennedy?) However, all of this is nothing compared to when a band, performing live, doesn’t seem to understand the point of their own performance. Sadly, White Reaper’s show at 7th Street Entry last Thursday epitomized the previous scenario.
White Reaper is essentially a bar band that got really, really big after the release of their sophomore album, 2017’s The World’s Best American Band. The Louisville group’s blend of gritty garage rock and bubblegum pop hooks melds together into a sound that manages to have its own voice while still being deeply indebted to its root influencers like Jay Reatard and Elvis Costello. Prior to the show, I’d spent the past couple of months growing quite fond of the new album, and I was excited to see how it would fare in a live setting.
In concert, White Reaper’s fatal flaw was their unwillingness to stray from their recorded output. Every note of every guitar solo was the exact same as on record. There were no vocal ad-libs or phrasing discrepancies whatsoever. The whole show was utterly predictable and uninspired. There were a few numbers that managed to break through the monotony, but only due to the quality of songwriting behind them—not the quality of the performance.
Now, it’s one thing for a band to have a weak spot, but it’s another for them to be fully aware of it and have no intention of doing anything about it and/or try and cover it up with superficial gimmickry. At one point in the show, a man dressed in a stormtrooper costume appeared on stage armed with a Lego Millennium Falcon replica and started to shoot the band members with its missiles while they played. He then proceeded to stage-dive, Lego Millennium Falcon in hand, into the crowd of rabid fans. Despite the fact that all I could think of at the time was some poor First Avenue employee having to pick up thousands of Legos off the floor after the show, it was an undeniably entertaining moment. Lesser gimmicks of this nature included the rhythm guitarist being crowdsurfed over to the bar for an end-of-set shot and the keyboardist leaping a solid few feet in the air whenever there was the slightest hint of a climactic point in the music. The thing is, if White Reaper hadn’t employed these strategically placed shenanigans throughout the show, I think everyone in attendance would have been bored to death.
To some, this might not seem like a big deal. Sure, White Reaper played it straight—so what? However, to me, consciously choosing to “play it straight” shows a lack of basic understanding of the core purpose of live music. Sure, live music is a form of entertainment, and it usually has to be somewhat entertaining in order to be successful on a performative level, but in order to be successful on a creative level, it has to go even further than that: it has to connect with its audience in a fundamentally different way from how it would connect with them on record. I consider this to be essential. There are plenty of ways a performer can accomplish this: through engagement with the audience (open dialogue, storytelling), through added content (jamming, improvisation, medleys), or even just by having a strong, charismatic energy that the crowd can latch onto. White Reaper had none of these things. Instead of attending their show, I might as well have stayed home, thrown on one of their records, and ran around my house shooting my family with Lego Millennium Falcon missiles. I really like these guys, but sooner or later, they’re going to need to significantly expand the breadth of their artistic ambition in order to give their live performances any sort of significance. How they do that is up to them.