Louisville punk-rock quartet White Reaper opened the show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Friday night in support of Canadian indie-pop group Alvvays’ final show of their biggest UK headline tour to date. Storming through eight tracks from their debut full-length album White Reaper Does It Again, they warmed the early crowd with their high-intensity pace and punchy sound.
The band is made up of singer and guitarist Tony Esposito, keyboardist Ryan Hater, and twin brothers Sam and Nick Wilkerson on bass and drums respectively. Growing up together, they eventually abandoned their college studies to concentrate on music, which was a risk that is evidently now paying off. The band’s rapid ascent began in 2014 when they were signed by Polyvinyl and soon after released their successful self-titled EP.
Their first major festival slot ensued, playing a highly acclaimed set at SXSW earlier in 2015 after which they firmly cemented their place on numerous lists of promising new acts across the US. The album followed in July, and the band are now spreading the word in the UK having played in Sheffield, Manchester and Glasgow before making the trip south.
With Esposito proudly announcing that this was their first time in the UK, the Kentuckians opened the show at full volume with Don’t You Think I Know. Standout track You Make Me Wanna Die followed, which combines sombre lyrics from songwriter Esposito with upbeat psychedelic keyboard synth from Hater leaving those in the crowd bouncing fuzzily. In a similar vein, the band followed with Pills, the only track on their debut album to which they’ve recorded and released a video, and one which reiterates this combination of teenage angst with tongue-in-cheek humour.
With the frontman sporting a shaven head, which may have surprised fans that previously recognised him from his long locks, it was left to Hater to lead the way with the hair flailing head banging. This role he took on willingly and enjoyed with an energy that you might expect from only the headline act.
The four-piece stormed on, playing tracks including Friday The 13th, Sheila, and Wolf Trap Hotel. Concluding the set with the final track from their album B.T.K., bassist Sam Wilkerson encouraged a timed clap from a willing crowd, whilst Hater entertained with the ultimate party trick, playing his keyboard with both forehead and teeth alternately.
To listen to their studio album debut, you wouldn’t guess that the record was only released this year as it exudes punk rock at its purest and could easily hail from the 1970s or 80s. And whilst the band may not define their music by era or understand how they’ve been branded a “garage punk” band, they sure do live up to their reputation as a great live band.
Catch White Reaper play a headline set at Dalston’s Victoria Pub in London on September 14th. Interview with White Reaper by Lauren and Kalpesh coming soon.
White Reaper @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 11/09/2015 Review by Lauren Patel. Photographs by Kalpesh Patel