They say a year is a long time in politics, but in music twelve months can be life-changing. It certainly has been for Royal Blood. It was just a year ago that we were one of the first to see them live. Back then, few had even heard of them and the duo were playing to perhaps 150 people in a claustrophobic seafront club. Thankfully, Bermuda Triangle has long since disappeared, but Royal Blood have well and truly arrived. Indeed they are already arguably the biggest band to have ever come out of Brighton (even if technically they hail from West rather than East Sussex)
Seeing them a year ago, you’d never have imagined they would ever be as big as they are now. Musically, there was no doubting the calibre of some of their songs, but performance-wise there was nothing much to write home about. Indeed, my review of that gig was far from complimentary.
Six months later they returned to Brighton, playing the Corn Exchange as part of The Great Escape. By now, they were the band on every tastemaker’s lips and that gig showed how far they’d come in such a short time. Yet, as good as they were, theirs wasn’t the highlight of TGE.
So fast forward another six months and Royal Blood’s music is coursing through the veins of rock music lovers the world-over. They’ve supported Arctic Monkeys, they’ve played Glastonbury, their debut record has become one of the biggest selling rock albums for years and to top it all, amongst all their other accolades, iTunes just named them Best New Artist of 2014.
It was somewhat fitting then that their last gig of the year brought them full circle with a return to Brighton. This time they were playing the Dome, the venue, Mike Kerr told us when we spoke to him back in May, where he’d seen his first ever gig (Goldfrapp when he was 15 if you were wondering) and the one place he always wanted to play. And boy did it turn out quite the homecoming show!
Given that there are only two of them, and that one plays bass whilst the other is hidden behind a drum kit, they start off with a huge disadvantage. Not only do they not have a guitarist, but they have no exuberant front man either. Add to that they only have about 40 minutes of material and you’d be forgiven for thinking this is never going to work. But it does and, what’s more, it works brilliantly!
So what’s changed? Well, visually the only real difference apart from being on a bigger stage is they now surround themselves with some slick lighting, nothing too OTT, but distinctly classy. There’s also a backdrop, but to be honest, you can’t really see it and Ben’s drums are now on a riser. Beyond that, the only visual change is Mike’s freshly styled hair, which makes him looks more groomed than before. And it has to be said, much better looking.
The big change however comes on two fronts, first the pair exude confidence. Whilst there’s not a lot of banter from either of them, you immediately notice how much they’ve stepped up their performance. But it’s the sound (and their playing) that’s come on leaps and bounds.
The Dome has always been blessed with good acoustics, but rarely has a rock band sounded quite as sonically bombastic as Royal Blood. Yes, it was loud, but the sound was rich and powerful and wonderfully balanced. Props to their FOH engineer Phil Jones for making it sound as good as it did.
But great sound is nothing without great songs and despite having just the one album’s-worth of material, it’s an album filled with some of the best rock music for many a year. All of which, as I’ve said before, sound even better live. Standouts were ‘Figure It Out’ ‘Little Monster’ ‘Blood Hands’ and inevitably the epic closer ‘Out Of The Black’, already a bona fide rock classic. As good as they sound on the record, played live they’re taken to another level completely.
With just two instruments producing the music, there’s no hiding place and whilst Ben’s drumming is up there with the very best, it’s Mike’s bass-playing that steals the show and gives them their signature sound. Indeed, even when you watch him play it’s hard to believe he can produce the sounds he does just from a bass guitar, never mind one that only costs £260.
And to think he only took up the bass and began singing three years ago (before that used to play keyboards) makes what he does even more extraordinary. Apparently, that sound is all down to the way he sets up his amps and pedals, but however he does it, your ears are tricked into thinking there’s a guitar and a bass being played. And as good as he plays, his vocals are also equally good.
There was no encore, but Ben did a lap of honour running around the venue before crowd surfing back to the stage. Even if they had more songs, they wouldn’t have been able to play them as between them they’d knocked over most of the drum kit.
It was an emotional night for them and one that will be forever etched in the memory of those who witnessed what can only be described as a jaw-dropping masterclass in what can be achieved with drum and bass. It was both Immense and intense. And, almost certainly, it was also the gig of the year!
Royal Blood’s debut album ’Royal Blood’ is out now
Words by Gary Marlowe, photos by Images Out Of The Ordinary