Gig Review: Royal Blood @ Arena Birmingham

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Gig day! Let’s have a checklist, yeah? Tightness in my chest? Check. Breathless and gasping for air? You bet. Adrenaline pumping as I surge through the crowd? Oh baby, you’d better believe it! However, this had nothing to do with the fact Royal Blood were playing Arena Birmingham, no, no, all these strange feelings were because my ticket was sitting on my mate’s coffee table, and I had to sprint double time to get there and back in time for the main event.

Royal Blood are a conundrum of a band. They’re a heavy-handed rock and roll outfit that even your dad will enjoy, surging to the very top of the music game: on the other hand, people seem to stick their tongue out because, well, I don’t know. This is quite bias, as you could present me a band with heavy riffs and loosely veiled innuendos about fucking as lyrics and I’d hail them as the next biggest thing, but hey, I’ll leave the technical jazz conceptual fusion to your weird mate Kevin.

 

Photo by Joseth Carter

 

However, the tens of thousands who’d shuffled into the arena loudly welcomed the band on stage, with the fuzz-tastic Lights Out kicking off proceedings. For a two-man operation, their sound and presence filled the entire stage in a barrage of lights, sound, lasers and Ben Thatcher. Despite the fact that the power duo share just a drumkit, a bass guitar and a top secret pedalboard, they created a wall of sound that shook the arena to its core. Seriously, during a much-needed Ben Thatcher drum solo, the screens were rattling under the force of his cowbell.

With just two albums under their belts, it must have been a stretch for them to construct an arena headling setlist. Nope. Again, bias speaking, but it was nothing but choice cuts. It’d be easier to list songs they didn’t include, but my policy on doing that is Don’t Tell, because that’d be Careless. But an 18 song setlist when they have two albums means that not many were left behind, but it made for a tight, flowing set that only allowed occasional gasps of air.

When How Did We Get So Dark? came out, I stuck my tongue out and chuntered on about second album syndrome. But this ugly duckling has become my most favourite swan in 2017, with Hook Line & Sinker, Where Are You Now?, Sleep, Hole in Your Heart absolutely stealing the show on Saturday evening. But the growth has been absolutely amazing, when I saw them in the Wolverhampton Civic back at the start of 2015 and it felt like Mike Kerr hid himself in his guitar, fully focusing on on the show. At the latter half of 2017, he is at one with his guitar, silkily moving up and down the fretboard whilst taking some time out to have a chat with the audience. There’s the rock ‘n’ roll cocksureness, but the disbelief that two lads from Brighton have made it this far.

 

Photo by Joeseth Carter.

 

What made this show extra special, including the fact that this is their biggest show to date, was the whole production value of it all. The flashing lights, the way laser showered the band, locking them in a strobelight prison of their own creation, the moving screen literally bringing the roof down and the hip swinging backing singers, giving the wall of sound that bit of extra oomph whilst giving a familiar air of that rock ‘n’ roll ooh la la. The growth & evolution of Royal Blood has been massive, from relative heavy unknowns to a global phenomenon, but they’ve grown into it without any kind of fuss.

I’d also like to pause it here, before we go to the explosive, creamy finale to yet again lecture you about moshpit etiquette, as it seems to be a ‘mainstream’ activity these days. First things first, it’s pretty simple: prepare to get knocked about a bit, and always pick up your fallen comrade. Don’t trample all over some poor fucker on the floor or come and shake everyone’s hand with a white hoodie draped over your shoulders warning about “elbows”. You’re in a mosh pit, you dull fuck. Second, there’s a time and a place, don’t just open it up because a new song is starting, open on the build-up, get stuck in on the drop. Third, if you’re gonna stand filming the mosh pit, don’t be shocked when you get driven into the middle of things – time waits for no mosh.

Right. Yeah. There.

The set was a mix of old classics and new favourites, with Little Monster, Come On Over, Loose Change, Figure It Out and Ten Tonne Skeleton sending the crowd into near frenzy. Brand new for twenty seventeen is something every RB fan has been waiting for; a Ben Thatcher drum solo. Also, he crowd surfed & took his hat off and I swear to fucking god I was shocked to see that there was hair under his hat. I assumed it was wires and motherboards. But from the first fuzz of Lights Out to the insanity of the extended Out of the Black finale, Royal Blood were at the very top of their game, pausing only momentarily to drink in the fact that most of Birmingham had showed up to say hello. There was also a tribute to Malcom Young, who had sadly passed on that day, with the boys blasting a bit of Back in Black for Birmingham.

It’s hard to see where Royal Blood go from here. Their appeal is stratospheric & their riffs are devastatingly powerful, even in the vast cavern of an arena. However, the betting man in me says that they’re only going to go up.

Ending the show, Mike Kerr said he hoped we all got laid, and well Mike, I’m still waiting.

Great gig though.

ALBUM REVIEW: Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

By Ethian Woodford (@human_dis4ster)

Royal Blood were the surprise stars of 2014. Exploding into the limelight with an electric live show that was the highlight of several festivals and a debut album that sold more copies in its first week than any other debut rock album since Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds three years prior. Their sound was both familiar yet forgotten, and for many was a reminder that rock music could still be relevant. However, with only two members and a very specific set-up of a bassist/vocalist and a drummer, many were also sceptical of where the Brighton duo could go next.

Fast-forward three long years and the boys have finally returned with a follow-up to their Mercury Prize nominated debut album. Since 2014, it was obvious the band could could go two ways: re-invent themselves and continue to find ways to innovate rock music and impress fans and critics alike or to assume the loyalty of their newly amassed fan base and essentially make the same thing over again. Unfortunately, they went with the latter option and even more disappointingly, it feels as if they did so intentionally.

The album opens with the eponymous title track which ventures into familiar territory, as if it could have been a b-side to a single they released three years ago. The track however does end on a more interesting note with some haunting backing vocals that lead into a final barrage that actually serves as a decent pay-off. This pattern continues for most of the album, bar the next two tracks which are plain dull, mostly predictable Royal Blood songs with the occasional interesting production choice or variation in vocal delivery. An example of this is the falsetto Mike Kerr adopts in She’s Creeping which is evidently influenced by AM-era Arctic Monkeys.

These occasional changes in pace are welcome but perhaps only more evident because of how painfully safe the rest of the album is. Their sound which was so exciting and volatile in 2014 feels so tried and tested and it feels as if the band have made little attempt to alter themselves. As with the sophomore album of Catfish and the Bottlemen last year, it seems as if Royal Blood are content with the level of success they have attained and are happy to cash in on it rather than evolve as a band and remain relevant in the long-run. This is incredibly disappointing to see from one of the most exciting bands of a few years ago.

Another source of disappointment in How Did We Get So Dark? is the lyrical content. Very similar to their debut, there is little here that is memorable or new and sticks to familiar themes explored on their self-titled album and by the end of the album the repetitiveness really starts to become irritating. Unsurprisingly, singing about the same thing over and over again exhausts the options for lyrics and this leads to some almost laughably bad lyricisms such as “She’s got the devil on one shoulder and my other is getting colder” on Hook, Line and Sinker. This track is also hampered by Kerr’s attempt at a more talkative delivery which is just a bit embarrassing.

Not all is lost with Royal Blood, they could maybe be capable of creating another credible album, but they need to dig deeper and look at ways of developing their sound instead of exhausting the products of the sound that propelled them to fame. Easily the biggest letdown here is the band’s clear decision to rest on their laurels and not make much of an effort to do anything new. Of course, since the first album was good, there is still some enjoyment to gain from an album that is essentially the same, but by the thousandth identical tinny riff from Kerr’s bass, it becomes tiring.

So let’s hope that next time we hear from Royal Blood they are able to redeem themselves but for now they have delivered one of the most underwhelming follow-up albums in recent memory.

3/10


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