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Live Review: White Reaper @ The Atlantis — 6/21/24

“Do you wanna hear a punk song..?”

Rushing to The Atlantis on this balmy hot-as-Satan’s-gooch DC summer night, running a bit late to catch White Reaper, I was not expecting a punk show. Although the Louisville-based five-piece is rooted in rich garage punk history, their releases over the past 7 or 8 years have favored more complex, richly layered songs, anchored by hook-driven verses and gaze-y, pop-forward choruses.

So, as I hurried through security in the newest IMP property, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Mike, frontman for opening act Spiritual Cramp, utter those words…“Do you wanna hear a punk song?” 

Spiritual Cramp, a mod-inspired outfit hailing out of San Francisco, dutifully warmed up the crowd for their friends and collaborators, White Reaper, with a string of raucous and upbeat songs at The Atlantis on June 21. Mike did an incredible job as showman and master of hype, leading the band through a series of deceptively serpentine tunes, and by the end of their set, the sold-out crowd in the 930-lite club was primed for the main act.

(Quick editorial aside: Spiritual Cramp had one member who was was exclusively focused on the tambourine. Like, running around the stage with a tambourine, tambourine. It was awesome.)

Stream White Reaper’s setlist from their June 21 show at The Atlantis on Spotify:

After the shortest of breaks between bands (the fans always appreciate that), White Reaper came out blazing with one of their older hits, “I Don’t Think She Cares.” This was a clever choice — by kicking off the night with a tune off 2015’s White Reaper Does It Again, any lingering notions among crowd skeptics that the set would be focused solely, or even predominantly, on the band’s newest material was disabused. In fact, the band struck a really fine balance in that regard, meandering through a decade-plus worth of material, playing songs from their earliest EP releases all the way to 2023’s Asking for a Ride. The only album I thought didn’t get as much attention as it deserved was The World’s Best American Band, with the band saving an absolute banger off that record, “Judy French,” as the solitary encore song.

Frontman / guitarist Tony Esposito was electric throughout the night, keeping banter to a bare minimum, and setting the pace with heart pounding  riffs and sticky sweet melodies. Guitarist Hunter Thompson and keyboard Ryan Hater provided much of the night’s more technical melodic runs and solos, while the Wilkerson twins kept the room shaking with a phalanx of a rhythm section. 

The crowd responded in kind, providing the rockers with the energy and positive validation any act on stage craves. As the night wore on, individual bodies started to lose shape, replaced increasingly by a vibrant mess of flailing limbs and booze-soaked dancing, moshing, and surfing. 

Throughout the bill, a host of nostalgic flashes befell me, perhaps brought on by the mob of uninhibited youth in the room, perhaps because of both bands’ penchant for rolling pre-recorded tracks (sirens, movie quotes, etc.) before launching into songs, or maybe simply due to the general 90s skate sound and aesthetic that White Reaper blends into its sound. Regardless, the most nostalgic moment came in the form of a very 90s / early aughts type of collaboration between Spiritual Cramp and White Reaper. Tony from White Reaper hopped on stage during Spiritual Cramp’s set, while Mike (as well as tambourine maniac Jose) returned the favor later in the Kentuckians’ performance, playing their recently released 2-song split. There was an undefinable, and almost ancient, sense of ritualism and holiness in that collab that just left a gooey, warm feeling in my bod.

Walking back to the train, ears ringing and lips humming, I smiled as I reflected on Mike’s question..fuck yeah, of course I want to hear a punk song.