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Reaping Riffs 

With nods to Van Halen and Thin Lizzy, Louisville's White Reaper (jokingly) christen themselves America's best rock band

click to enlarge Opening for Spoon at the Knitting Factory, White Reaper still carries a torch for the best of 1970s punk-pop.
  • Opening for Spoon at the Knitting Factory, White Reaper still carries a torch for the best of 1970s punk-pop.

White Reaper's arena-rock star panache wasn't necessarily intended as a method of self-actualizing — or at least practiced out on a tour that sees them gracing main stages at festivals like Lollapalooza.

"Loud music is a pretty surefire way to get somebody amped up," vocalist and guitarist Tony Esposito says of the band's much-talked-about live performances. "There's a lot of energy from us, which may be infectious at times. It's an interesting environment. A lot of energy, a lot of noise, a lot of people."

The band originally played small shows in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, with their sound always centered on bobbing hooks and riffs. Their first release — 2015's cheekily titled White Reaper Does It Again — highlights those elements of their sound that have made them a must-see garage-rock touring act. But Esposito and his band had bigger aspirations, and they've seen their act grow.

White Reaper's latest album, The World's Best American Band, opens with the roar of a stadium-sized crowd, as if their second full-length studio release was recorded live. The title track packs plenty of riffs and rock 'n' roll sensibilities, suggesting that the name of the band's sophomore album should be said with (at most) a half-smirk. The album gloriously wears the band's influences on its sleeve, earning nods to acts like Cheap Trick, the Dickies or Thin Lizzy.

"That was really the kind of stuff we were raised on," said Esposito. "We didn't think, 'Let's make a classic rock record!' We just thought, 'Let's make a record that was better than our last record.' We wanted the songs to be a little more detailed. Put some more effort in each and every individual part, and worked really hard on it."

The stage persona and attitude that White Reaper brings is reminiscent of the swagger of Van Halen or, to a different degree, the Ramones (listen to "Party Next Door" and you'll hear a resemblance to the punk legends). "Judy French," their lead single (and contender for song of the summer), sounds like something Matthew McConaughey's Dazed and Confused character would chug along to in his Chevelle SS.

The roots of these songs are not as glamorous as the glossy, glittery results, with Esposito finding riffs in mundane moments, like during an afternoon re-airing of SportsCenter.

"A lot of times it will just happen. I'll be watching TV and I'll hear the riff for 'Judy French' and I try to learn it on guitar," Esposito says. "Or I'm driving and I hear the riff for 'World's Best.' I feel like when I get bored and doze off, I start thinking of songs."

The band's mission statement can be heard in The World's Best American Band's third single, "The Stack," which sees Esposito explaining, "If you make the girls dance, the boys will dance with 'em." Throughout their early career as the self-proclaimed Best American Band, White Reaper has found a way to hone an authentic sound, ignoring the call of punk pretensions in favor of infectious, fun performances.

"We love playing shows," Esposito says. "As much bullshit as we have to go through to play a show. You have to drive eight hours. Get all of your shit out of the trailer, put it in the place. Set it up. Plug it in. Something doesn't work. You have to fix it. Sound check. And finally — after all of that shit — you get 40 minutes to an hour to just do what you came for. We don't take it lightly. We get super excited for it." ♦

Spoon with White Reaper • Mon, Aug. 28 at 8 pm • $28.50 • All-ages • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • sp.knittingfactory.com • 244-3279

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