Live Review: Royal Blood with Spirit Animal at DC9, Washington DC – 20th July 2014

By on Tuesday, 22nd July 2014 at 2:00 pm

Despite what some people think, seeing a band at SXSW might not be the best experience you have with them. Maybe the mix wasn’t right, or it was being squished in like sardines among people who may or may not have cared to see the band in question back in March of this year for SXSW 2014? Whatever the reason was, I just didn’t enjoy myself seeing Royal Blood during their slot at the BBC Introducing showcase at Latitude 30 Thursday night, compered by my famous friend Steve Lamacq. However, this past weekend I was granted a far better opportunity to see the Brighton duo tear it up at intimate venue DC9, one of my favourite places to see up and coming bands play. I’m almost not sure if we are to call Royal Blood “up and coming”, as they’re already signed to Warner Brothers, which seems to suggest superstardom is just around the corner.

Spirit Animal at DC9

Opening hearing a couple of tracks from the opening band Spirit Animal online, I thought their sound would be a dreadful mismatch to Royal Blood’s ‘take no prisoners’ approach to hard rock. Oh, how very wrong I was. Upon reading the bill weeks ago, I was first questioning, why was a random New York City band come in Washington to play a one-off show with an English band they’ve never met? Turns out it wasn’t so random at all: the band are actually originally from DC and just have decamped to the Big Apple, presumably for a better shot at professional success. Second question, how does an analogue synth-playing band fit at all with the ethos of a band like Royal Blood? The Moog in question wasn’t so much ‘played’ was mostly banged by frontman Steve Cooper, who was otherwise mostly singing, jumping and showing his line dance moves (I’m being serious about this last one).

The connection sonically with Royal Blood is on their sometimes hard rocking guitar, delivered by epic beard-sporting bassist Paul Michel and lean and mean axe-playing Cal Stamp. I say sometimes, because this band changes direction from song to song, which keeps things extremely interesting, and they can get away with this, because Cooper is charismatic to pull this off and lead his troops to victory. Their general genre is rock, but they incorporate elements of funk, which make a lot of their music capable of inducing shape throwing. In no song of theirs is this funk more evident than set opener ‘Radio Brain’, which is a whole lot of fun while Cooper jumped around like a bull in a china shop. No, I lie. ‘Best One’, also on their EP ‘Kingdom Phylum’ (you’d think they named this to appeal to a biologist like myself), is another funkadelic storm. Spirit Animal, in essence, provided an upbeat audience warm-up for the headline set. The funk and catchiness of their songs will serve them well, and I foresee this band doing very well in the near future. (I’m not even considering the fact that Cooper and I went to rival county high schools.)

Royal Blood at DC9 1

Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher certainly earn their keep. The two powerhouses come together to create such a commanding presence as Royal Blood live, I can’t imagine seeing anyone else gig in the near future who could rival what I witnessed Sunday night. I can’t emphasise enough how wowed I was by the sheer muscle of Kerr’s masterful bass playing and Thatcher’s bewildering drumming on display. I’m a bass player and when I wasn’t headbanging (yes, I am 5’ 3”, tiny and Chinese, stop laughing and don’t judge), I just stared, mesmerised as Kerr’s left hand moved fluidly up and down the neck of any one of his three guitars. If I am to keep this review clean, the only way I can describe Kerr’s playing, in a word, is awesome. If you don’t play bass (or any instrument for that matter) and have always thought that there is no way a bass player can dominate on melody on a song, think again.

Kerr is charismatic, but in a less conventional way: for the masses that make their way every summer to Download and Sonisphere, it seems he is the no-brainer choice for their next frontman hard rock god, wailing on his bass with monster riffs while also holding court with his seemingly out of control in their power yet (surprise!) melodic vocals. This is the difference – and it’s a massive one – that makes Royal Blood special and stand out from the rest of the hard rock pack. Indie music lovers who might not identify as headbangers won’t be able to stay away once the Brighton duo’s memorable choruses get stuck in their heads (see ‘Little Monster’, ‘Come On Over’).

Royal Blood at DC9 2

But let’s turn back to the drums for a moment. I watched Thatcher pummel his drum kit into virtual submission, hitting it so hard that after just three songs in, he had to grab another pair of drum sticks, as there was nothing left of the ones he started with but dust and pathetic shards. (Pathetic shards he handed over, very kindly, to a grateful female fan before starting into the next song, I might add.) As he delivered his searing beat contribution to last song of the night ‘Out of the Black’ with rapid fire precision, I couldn’t help but smile and think that if the late John Bonham is watching, he is delighted that someone is continuing in his footsteps. After the show, I said hello to the guys and they were some of the sweetest musicians I’ve met. I hope, sincerely, that I have not ruined their street cred with this revelation; I only bring this up because they seem oblivious of what effect their music has on their fans.

You want to place a bet on the next biggest hard rock act to take over the world? Look no further. My money’s on Royal Blood. And it couldn’t happen to nicer guys.

After the cut: Spirit Animal and Royal Blood’s set lists.

Spirit Animal’s Set List:
Radio Brain
The Black Jack White
Saturday Night
Party in the Back
Crocodile Skins
True Believer
Regular World
Best One
Come to Christmas

Royal Blood’s Set List:
Come On Over
You Can Be So Cruel
Figure It Out
Better Strangers
Little Monsters
Blood Hands
Love and Leave It Alone
Loose Change
Out of the Black

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