White Reaper proves rock and roll isn’t dead at the Biltmore Cabaret

The Kentucky band’s sweaty Friday night club show was anything but grim

White Reaper’s third record, You Deserve Love, was released on October 18. Image courtesy of Grace Lillash / Consequence of Sound.

By: Andrea Renney, Arts Editor

Long-haired guys headbanging. Girls in ripped t-shirts and leopard print dresses in the front row. Powerful guitar riffs taking centre stage. Is this a rock concert scene from an 80s movie, or your dad’s story about the Van Halen concert he met your mom at? Both are logical guesses, but no: this is Kentucky band White Reaper at the Biltmore Cabaret on October 11, 2019. 

With guitar riffs and keyboards akin to pop-rock bands like Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, and Van Halen, White Reaper has cultivated a sound that’s reminiscent of the arena rock (or “dad rock”) genre of the mid-1970s. It’s a sound that’s nostalgic for their fans, but not from personal experience — the majority of the crowd at the Biltmore likely wasn’t even born before 1990. I guess it’s a similar feeling of simulated nostalgia that fans get from a band like Greta van Fleet, except White Reaper just seems to do it a little more authentically and a lot more organically. 

I arrived at the Biltmore right before the second opener, The Dirty Nil, took the stage. Lead vocalist and guitarist Luke Bentham still rocks the star-printed shirts he was wearing the last time I saw the band, but his trademark bubblegum bubbles were not included in their set this time. Neither was “Cinnamon,” from 2017’s Minimum R&B and my personal favorite song of theirs. Nevertheless, the band ripped through an impressive number of songs from Minimum R&B, 2016’s Higher Power, and 2018’s Master Volume. The love between The Dirty Nil and the crowd was reciprocal, with Bentham and bassist Ross Miller repeatedly expressing their appreciation for Vancouver and the crowd filling the small dance floor to mosh and jump around at the band’s request.

Can I rave about the Biltmore for a minute? This intimate (read: sweaty) venue is a gem in Mount Pleasant. Like most smaller venues, there are a lot of unique features to marvel at: the cushy lounge seating, the cut-in-half disco ball over the dance floor, the Sopranos-themed pinball machine. Despite the rapid gentrification the area is experiencing, the Biltmore is still in good company, with spots like the Fox Cabaret on Main Street and the Clubhouse on 1st Avenue also offering smaller shows in unique spaces with a lot of character.

After a short setup time, White Reaper took the small stage before a tightly packed-in crowd. After moshing to PUP’s entire set at the Vogue Theatre two nights before, I was feeling bruised and tired. This was my first time seeing White Reaper, and I didn’t know what was expected of me as a member of the coveted front row. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to jump around for 40 or so minutes.

To quote “The Stack,” from the band’s 2017 record The World’s Best American Band: “If you make the girls dance, the boys will dance with ‘em.” Right from the get-go with “Make Me Wanna Die,” White Reaper had the girls in the front row (me included) dancing, with the boys in the back following suit. This continued for the rest of the night, through a mix of songs from The World’s Best American Band, 2015’s White Reaper Does It Again, and forthcoming releases from their third record, You Deserve Love, which hadn’t yet been released at the time of the show.

The rowdiness of the crowd was matched by the band’s unfaltering energy, from their first song to their last. Through old favourites like “I Don’t Think She Cares” and “Sheila,” and through tracks from their new record like “Might Be Right,” White Reaper kept everyone moving under the low ceilings and the crowd surfers. 

Toward the end of their set, the band teased us with covers of “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers, “Undone – The Sweater Song” by Weezer, and “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams. Their handwritten setlists on ripped pieces of paper had degraded by this point, with requests being taken from the audience and fan-favourite “Daisies” being moved up considerably at the behest of the front row. 

The crowd was getting restless for “Judy French” during the second half of the set, continually pleading for the band to play it — but we all know a song of this caliber is obviously saved for last. To use some of my favourite music-related slang of late: “Judy French” absolutely slaps. After receiving the drinks they’d requested from the bar, the band finally gave in and sent us off with this final banger. 

White Reaper is high energy, pure fun, and a force to be reckoned with in today’s rock scene. They might not be reinventing the wheel, but they’re bringing today’s generation the kind of music we all wish we’d had a chance to see live back in its heyday. If you get the chance to see these guys, take it — if only to live out all your Dazed and Confused (or in my case, Almost Famous) fantasies. Long live rock and roll.

White Reaper is currently on tour promoting their new record, You Deserve Love, released October 18 on Elektra Records.