Following At The Drive-In takes balls, especially when the Texas quintet finish their 45-minute assault with a rendition of One Armed Scissor that’s the sonic equivalent of a napalm attack.
But Brighton-based Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher certainly aren’t lacking in confidence. And rightly so. In the five years since forming Royal Blood the duo have taken their crunching blues riffs and titanic choruses from open-mic nights in Worthington to headlining London’s Alexandra Palace three nights in a row.
It’s been a rapid rise, certainly, but gradual enough for the singer-bassist and drummer to scale up their production and on-stage personas to the point that just the two of them are in complete control of the 10,000 people who’ve turned up tonight to see them.
The gargantuan lighting rig and the screen that can fold down to enclose the pair (Kanye-at-Glastonbury style) was definitely a good investment.
So was the giant gong that Thatcher ceremonially hits with a flaming mallet during Don’t Wanna Sleep, not to mention the giant panda head he dons for an entire song without his wild drumming in the least bit affected.
Even the second microphone on the other side of the drum kit that Kerr mostly uses to address the crowd (thanking them for trekking up the hill, inciting them to roar in response to a riff) is an inspired decision.
A catwalk which allows the frontman to reach forward into the audience is yet another tool to help the duo make the most of the vast Ally Pally hall, like the other gear at their disposal it only amplifies the performers’ over-sized personalities.
The charming Kerr does all the talking, but Thatcher simply can’t be ignored, standing up at every opportunity and even coming down from his riser during those brief moments when there’s no pounding beat to lay down.
And pound he definitely does, not just creating a backbone for the vocals and basslines, but reinforcing the pummeling riffs and soaring melodies that, thanks to some quick-footed trickery with effects pedals, Kerr creates with the four strings of his bass guitar.
They hit that sweet spot between kick-in-the-ribs groove and simply irresistible hook, time and again in a set that cherry picks the highlights of their 2014 self-titled debut record and this year’s UK #1 follow-up How Did We Get So Dark? And, of course, the London crowd lap it all up, the frontman even thanking the engaged audience for (largely) not spending the night filming the show on mobile phones.
Of course the biggest hits, sprinkled throughout rather than bookending the set, get the biggest roars. The punch-in-the-gut rocker Lights Out gets bodies jumping right out of the gate, stoner singalong Little Monster is met with deafening roars.
I Only Lie When I Love You has the crowd moving as energetically as the band (and the two female backing singers who are brought on for many of the new songs). The bluesy Figure It Out incites jerky dance moves. And of course psychedelic stomper Ten Tonne Skeleton triggers mass euphoria.
But Hole In Your Heart, requiring 28-year-old Kerr to juggle organ, vocals, bass, and that complex pedal board, is the most impressive. Musically their most ambitious and restrained song yet, it hints at Royal Blood’s future – a future that most certainly involves headlining stadiums.
Following their three-night run at London’s Alexandra Palace, Royal Blood hit up Glasgow’s SSE Hydro on 24th November, Nottingham’s’ Motorpoint Arena on 25th, Dublin’s 3Arena om 26th and the Bournmouth International Centre on 28th before closing out this leg of their tour with a massive hometown show at the Brighton Centre on 29th.
Live review of Royal Blood @ Alexandra Palace by Nils van der Linden on 21st November 2017.
Photos by Kalpesh Patel. Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate