The Metro, July 20
Cocky little beggars now aren’t they? And fair enough too.
Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher always had a sense of rock theatre about them, and not just because even after White Stripes, The Mess Hall and Black Keys, a two-piece rock band still feels like a precarious balancing act and a bit of bravado.
Thatcher’s habit of standing on his drum stool mid-show and simply staring out at the audience, as if daring them to come at him, made a showmanship virtue of what seemed a taciturn nature under the permanently fixed cap.
Kerr’s effects pedal-enriched creation of a wholly different six-string guitar sound out of a four-string bass, saw mass craning of necks in every room trying to see exactly how he was doing that so that even a little swing of the guitar neck was enough to swing eyes to him.
However, two tours since their first small club shows here – and ahead of their upsizing to mid-size arenas when they return early next year – Royal Blood have made themselves into the kind of rock band that assumes attention and thrives on it.
The power is as potent: Thatcher’s skilled but not fancy drumming laying a ground floor for Kerr to stack on a blend of ‘70s proto-metal, ‘60s blues and ‘90s alterna-rock. Royal Blood pack some grunt.
And the strengths and weaknesses evident from the first album are still here in the songs from album number two, How Did We Get So Dark?. The band is at its best when songs are played at some pace as the slower ones don’t swing and can feel at times merely heavy-by-rote and aimed at the feet; but when natural propulsion pushes rhythm forward there’s momentum that’s aimed at the hips.
Forget banging heads, moving hips are an undervalued part of the best hard rock.
The difference in the 2017 version of Royal Blood is there’s just the right amount of arrogance and sexiness too, bringing out Kerr’s guitar god poses – teetering, as the poses always do, between exciting and ridiculous – as well as showing off his willingness to be ogled. If the vocals had been cranked up appropriately, Kerr would have totally owned this room. As it was he came damn close.
Change has also come on the other side of the stage. The audience has not just grown, it has masculinised (the balance seems 70/30 male/female) and aged (there were more than a few mature chaps in the room) and it is interesting to ponder whether the rock show we now see has influenced this growth or being influenced by it.
Guess we’ll find out more when they jump up another level next year. Which reminds me that Black Keys did not handle the jump to arenas well at all: their intimacy lost even as their power surged, and the band hasn’t been the same since as they pondered just who and what they really were.
Royal Blood look less unsure about that move. They look ready for their close-up on a very big screen.
Royal Blood will play the Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, April 24; Logan Campbell Centre, Auckland, May 1; TSB Bank Arena, Wellington, May 3; Riverstage, Brisbane, May 7; Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, May 9; HBF Stadium, Perth, May 13. Tickets on sale from August 2.