Live Review: Royal Blood at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

Royal Blood Wellington
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Royal Blood

w/ Dead Favours

TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

Friday 4 May 2018

It’s weird to think that it was just over a week ago that I last saw Jared Wrennall onstage. The Dead Favours singer had joined Skinny Hobos during their set when they opened for Biffy Clyro in Auckland last Tuesday.

The Hobos had done well, but this opening set that Dead Favours played in support of Royal Blood in Wellington tonight was heads and tails above it. The sound wasn’t even that great – TSB Arena is notorious for poor acoustics. The singing and guitar struggled to feature above the heavy low-end mix. Despite this, Dead Favours still managed to do themselves proud.

The crowd response was unbelievable. It was a big turn out for so early in the night – roughly 1700 people at that stage – and they were lapping it up, clapping along without prompting, cheering, and encouraging the band. I attend a lot of gigs and to see this kind of crowd support for a local opener is unheard of. Well done Dead Favours!

It’s hard to believe that Royal Blood have risen to this status on the back of just two albums. In fact, they’d already earned a lot of attention from their eponymous début, and latest album How Did We Get So Dark? only helped to cement their place in modern rock stardom. I was out-of-town when the duo last played Wellington three years ago, but they were already a much hyped-about band back then. The packed out venue tonight goes to show how popular they are. In fact, the crowd started up a chant “Royal Blood, Royal Blood!” after the first song, showing the strength of their collective enthusiasm.

“It’s a shock to come so far from where we live and see so many people here” singer Mike Kerr confessed, “We count ourselves lucky.”

I review a lot of solo projects on this blog, and the odd two-piece. But the fact remains that I’ll always be impressed with what just two talented musicians can pull off. I’d say the standard rock band has five roles: a singer, drums for the beat, bass for the low-end, and two guitars – one for rhythm and another for lead. And often you can get by with fewer players if they are talented enough, but creating a full sound from just two players is quite the feat.

Kerr employs a lot of technical wizardry to pull of the tones he creates with just a bass guitar in most of his songs. He’s like the swiss army kit singer, filling a range of duties, providing singing, banter, bass, guitar sounds, even playing a Rhodes organ at one stage.

Drummer Ben Thatcher is no slouch either. He came across as super casual, wearing a Slayer t-shirt and snapback cap, and spending as much time supping tequila from a red plastic cup as he did playing drums. He only spoke once during the set, coming forward to recite a poem, just to demand that we party with him when screams from the crowd interrupted his prose. But when he played you knew about it. A thunderous back beat, with deft playing that remained unbusy. He had interesting mannerisms. He threw his sticks high into the air as he played, just as he frequently threw his red cup off to the side between songs, only to fetch it and fill it, just to repeat after the next song.

The duo treated us to their arena rock with a hint of danger. A touch of blues, a sinister vibe, a noticeable swagger. Hard hitting, with crunchy riffs and clearly defined beats. They’ve clearly been at it for a long time. I noted that during the breakdown of “Lights Out” they managed to play as a tight unit, despite various tempo changes.

I could draw comparisons from other notable blues rock duos, but that’s just lazy. That said, I did see another two-piece, 21 Pilots play this same venue last year.

21 Pilots are great showmen. It’s all gimmicks and theatrics. They get away with playing as a two piece because they rely heavily on backing tracks. But hey, it makes for a great show. Royal Blood, however, are more straight up. No messing around with backing tracks, video screens, and odd stage costumes. They play hard, and they play well. And I respect them for it.

Royal Blood take notes from top-tier rock legends. The stark lighting show of vertical light bars and blinders could just fit in at a Nine Inch Nails gig. During “Little Monster” they paused, launched into a spellbinding drum solo, built the intensity, and came back to finish the song five minutes later. It’s the kind of move that Foo Fighters used to pull back in their prime.

Two backing singers came on for a handful of songs throughout the night, dressed in glittery black outfits. They were barely audible for most of it, but their haunting coos certainly enhanced “How Did We Get So Dark?”, from the album of the same name.

One of the key attractions is that Royal Blood make things things appear simple. Obviously it isn’t – getting those tones from a bass guitar isn’t normal at all – but it seems simple. Good riffs, fairly straightforward beats, stark lighting. It’s minimal, efficient – even down to the amount of people on stage. No-nonsense rock and roll. And it’s all damn good.

Joseph James

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