The notion of whether rock and roll is “alive” or not has been a raging discussion within music circles for quite some time now and with more and more up-and-coming acts each year the conversation continues to thicken. Thankfully in the case of Highly Suspect the genre is still very much alive and kicking and their performance this past Thursday at legendary Sayreville venue Starland Ballroom more than cemented their status as one of the genre’s most exhilarating and dynamic acts around. The band were celebrating the release of their latest record MCID and the audience was more than willing to participate in the celebration.
Opening with fan favorites such as “Bath Salts” and “Bloodfeather”, the band announced themselves in top form with frontman Johnny Stevens instantly making an intimate connection with the audience. As a band, Highly Suspect delivered a sound full of soaring and bombastic rockers that were hard-hitting, electrifying performed and brought more than a few doses of raw energy. As a live experience, Highly Suspect orchestrated a live-wire act that showcased a wide musical range along with an uncompromising intensity and honesty that was thoroughly engaging.
For many bands, on-stage chemistry can make or break a set and luckily Highly Suspect had plenty to spare. The connection between the band members was fluid and organic and each of them was equally represented. Each member had a stand-out moment during the night and credit to twin brothers Rich and Ryan Meyers whose respective guitar and drum work helped to anchor the performance on several occasions. Johnny Stevens formidably played off his bandmates seamlessly and created more than enough space for them to shine while also establishing a presence of his own. As a collective unit, Highly Suspect’s tight chemistry brought out their explosive and adrenaline-fueled music in tremendously exciting fashion. In terms of their setlist, Highly Suspect struck a strong balance between fan-favorites and their more recent output giving the audience a wide scope of their influences and styles.
While their set contained plenty of full-on rockers, some of the most truly compelling moments were the most intimate. For the performance of “Juzo”, member Rich Meyers performed acoustic in a stripped-down fashion that was no less compelling than their heavier numbers. Musically, Highly Suspect have influences ranging from hip-hop, alternative and hard rock and each of these influences was showcased with flair and sophistication. Each of these genre shifts was welcome but it was enormously gratifying to see the band perform such staples as “Lydia”, “Serotonia”, and “Look Alive, Stay Alive” with gusto and sheer exuberance. The most satisfying aspect of witnessing Highly Suspect was the level of passion brought to each and every number by Johnny Stevens whose charisma mixed with his honesty and sheer gratitude for his fans made him a magnetic and well-rounded frontman. His commitment on-stage was truly something to behold and his audience interactions were refreshingly candid and sincere.
As the night drew to a close, the band showed no signs of losing any momentum and as they closed out with fan favorite “Wolf” it was quite clear that both they and audience had established a connection. For many acts, it can be quite the challenge to maintain a following and deliver a worthy experience for listeners. On stage at Starland Ballroom, Highly Suspect more than proved that rock and roll music is alive and well and full of passion, style and humanity. While the eternal “Is Rock alive?” debate may never truly be resolved, Highly Suspect make a mesmerizing case for it’s survival. Nothing suspect about good old-fashioned rock and roll and judging by the results here these boys got it in spades, rock on.
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