After going viral this year, Royal Blood play The Wiltern again & show a sold-out crowd in LA why they are one of rock’s most exciting acts

Royal Blood - Mike KerrBy Josh Herwitt //

Royal Blood with HotWax //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
November 9th, 2023 //

For any of you reading this who were unfamiliar with Royal Blood prior to May 28th, there’s probably a good chance that you have heard of them now.

Mocking a lackluster and “pathetic” crowd at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend — it really was but you can judge for yourself here — before flipping them off might not have been the way Mike Kerr (lead vocals, bass, keyboards, piano, guitar) planned for the project he has fronted since early 2011 to go viral, but that quickly became his reality by the following day.

The music media, not surprisingly, seized on the moment, permeating our news feeds and timelines with an onslaught of headlines all pointing to Kerr’s onstage banter and behavior in Scotland. Merely a week later, he was on BBC Radio 1’s airwaves to address the incident with his sidekick Ben Thatcher (drums, percussion, piano), confessing that he “felt like a sort of pro wrestler” and “pantomime villain” during the performance but “meant no offense … and applause is optional.”

Despite all of the subsequent backlash Royal Blood received online, it hasn’t exactly put a dent in their ticket sales — at least in a major U.S. metropolis like LA with endless opportunities to see live music — less than six months later. Take last Thursday’s sold-out gig at The Wiltern for instance, as the English alt-rock duo packed one of the larger-sized venues that they are playing in North America this fall, with the historic theater filled from the reserved pit and GA floor sections up to the mezzanine and balcony for the band’s first time there in six years. It was also the first time in almost two decades visiting that I have witnessed a legitimate mosh pit break out.

Fresh off a nine-day break after their latest shows in the UK and Ireland last month, Kerr and Thatcher were primed for a big night under the bright lights of LA. Much like their appearance more than a year ago at what was then the brand-new Ventura Music Hall (read our show review here), these lads were once again joined by touring member Darren James (keyboards, backing vocals) as their newer studio material starting with 2021’s Typhoons sees them leaning more into synthesizers and keyboards than sticking with the original recipe of only bass and drums they cooked up for their first two albums. What results is a more dance-forward sound that has continued on their fourth LP Back to the Water Below, which was released in September and serves an excellent complement to the rest of their catalog.

Royal Blood

The grungy, post-punk tendencies from their fellow countrymates in HotWax, who were making their debut in the states, proved to pair well with the evening’s main course, and by the time Royal Blood walked out around 9 p.m. to a thunderous applause like the ones they are used to, we were ready to scarf up everything that Kerr and Thatcher put on our plates. They fittingly began with “Mountains at Midnight” — the lead single on Back to the Water Below — and then took us back in time, unleashing the blistering one-two punch of “Boilermaker” and the ensuing “Lights Out” at one point to set the tone for the rest of the night.

Those of us who have caught Royal Blood on previous tours know what they’re capable of when they take the stage, but it’s always exciting to see how their new songs will play out in front of an audience. The fuzzed-out “Shiner in the Dark” and already fan favorite “Triggers” both delivered, and though you won’t necessarily find the album’s title represented in the tracklist like their previous two full lengths, it does come from a lyric during the piano-led single “Pull Me Through” with a groove that will have you singing along or at least nodding your head to by the final chorus, offsetting some of the machismo we have become accustomed to from both Kerr and Thatcher. There was “Tell Me When It’s Too Late” as we neared the finish line, with a triplet feel on the bass drum that the late John Bonham would be most likely proud of, and even though it’s the shortest track on Back to the Water Below at well under three minutes, it’s as big and bombastic as anything else they have done.

Since our last encounter, the core of Royal Blood’s setlist hasn’t changed with “Come on Over”, “Hook, Line & Sinker”, “Little Monster”, “How Did We Get So Dark?”, “Loose Change”, “Out of the Black”, “Ten Tonne Skeleton” and of course “Figure It Out” all making a return this time. While we can’t say we don’t enjoy hearing these songs when they are performed, it would be nice if Royal Blood mixed things up a little more or expanded upon what they have already recorded to make every show feel special. Yet, in fairness, they did bring out HotWax’s Tallulah Sim-Savage to play guitar on “Waves” at the start of their encore — something we hope they will consider doing more of in the future. We would also like to see their concerts extend past the 90-minute mark, even if it were only for a little bit longer, and there’s no question that should be the case in due time.

Regardless of our commentary on Royal Blood’s current live show, Back to the Water Below has easily ascended, alongside Queens of the Stone Age’s In Times New Roman…, to be one of our favorite rock albums of 2023. It shares the same accessibility 2014’s self-titled effort and 2017’s How Did We Get So Dark? have, and at the same time, sonically still manages to move the needle forward enough for now.

We can imagine at this point that Royal Blood would just like to forget BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, and we are definitely not interested in dwelling over past indiscretions anymore. Kerr and Thatcher have not only the bravado and charisma, but also the chops to stake their claim as a top-notch rock act for a long time. And hey, maybe a little notoriety never hurts, too.

Setlist:
Mountains at Midnight
Come on Over
Boilermaker
Lights Out
Shiner in the Dark
Hook, Line & Sinker
Triggers
Trouble’s Coming
Typhoons
Pull Me Through
Little Monster
How Did We Get So Dark?
Tell Me When It’s Too Late
Loose Change
Out of the Black

Encore:
Waves (with Tallulah Sim-Savage)
Ten Tonne Skeleton
Figure It Out

Royal Blood make a pit stop at brand-new Ventura Music Hall on their ‘Typhoons’ tour to remind us rock ‘n’ roll is still alive & well

Royal BloodBy Josh Herwitt //

Royal Blood with cleopatrick //
Ventura Music Hall – Ventura, CA
May 4th, 2022 //

If you’re one of those people who thinks rock ‘n’ roll is on its way out, then you probably haven’t heard of Royal Blood before.

The English alt-rock duo comprised of Mike Kerr (lead vocals, bass, keyboards, piano, guitar) and sidekick Ben Thatcher (drums, percussion, piano) has been growing its fan base far outside the UK since forming more than a decade ago, so much so the two Brits have found themselves headlining larger venues “in the states” with each passing tour.

But the smallest room on Royal Blood’s 26-date North American trek that included five shows up and down California is no doubt the brand-new Ventura Music Hall, which hopes to be a legitimate pit stop for bands traveling from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and vice versa.

Opening its doors for the first time less than two months ago, the 635-person club has already hosted several notable acts across a range of genres — from the world sounds of Thievery Corporation to the punk rock of Flogging Molly and Bob Mould to the synthpop of Gary Numan and Hot Chip — while the addition of Royal Blood should only help build its credibility as one of the few spots to catch live music along the Central Coast. At half the size of the Ventura Theater, it offers a more intimate setting despite being mostly standing room with food available via local pop-up Ruff House BBQ and a massive ceiling fan to create a strong ventilation system (because we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic).

Ventura, furthermore, has been primed to have a new space for a while now. Home to outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia as well as a handful of top-notch craft breweries an hour north of LA and 30 minutes south of Santa Barbara, the once-sleepy beach town is often overlooked and could be something more than its past as other entertainment and dining options are introduced and established over time.

Royal Blood

Much of the same can be said for Royal Blood after they last performed stateside in 2018. Since then, they’ve managed to reinvent some of that big, bombastic sound we first heard them unleash on 2014’s self-titled debut LP and 2018’s How Did We Get So Dark? by churning out even catchier melodies and dance-forward backbeats for their third studio effort Typhoons, which dropped more than a year ago to predominantly favorable reviews.

There might be no better track on Typhoons that manifests the sonic evolution of Royal Blood than its disco-flavored lead single “Trouble’s Coming”, and considering that it was the first song written for the album based on what Kerr has said in interviews, I would be surprised if it doesn’t become a staple at the band’s shows in the future.

On this night and this tour, we were treated to a performance from Kerr and Thatcher that spanned all three of their full lengths and more. There was “Typhoons” fittingly to open and “Boilermaker” to follow, the latter of which being the Josh Homme-produced track that you could argue is one of Royal Blood’s most electrifying songs right now (I did after naming it my favorite song of 2021). It has a similar energy to “Lights Out” and that might be why the first single — and one of the real standouts — off HDWGSD? came right after in the setlist.

Multiple deep cuts such as “Hook, Line & Sinker”, “Blood Hands” and “Loose Change” were also played, but hearing Royal Blood’s newest single “Honeybrains” that they uncovered right before hitting the road this spring was particularly praiseworthy for a group that has moved beyond a bass guitar and drums to incorporate more keyboards in their latest studio material. If it wasn’t evident to the crowd quite yet, Kerr made it upon his return to the stage after a short set break, as he took a seat at the piano and belted out the Typhoons finale “All We Have Is Now” to kickstart a furious, three-song encore that ended with Royal Blood cuts “Ten Tonne Skeleton” and “Out of the Black” sending us home after 90 minutes of ear-rattling and headbanging euphoria.

What has always amazed me about Royal Blood is how full their music sounds despite only having two permanent members who would serve as most bands’ rhythm section. And although you would have to think that Kerr and Thatcher will eventually explore adding other instrumentation — if not more full-time staff with Darren James brought on last year to be their touring keyboardist — into the fold, the 11-track Typhoons has provided them with that step forward. Where they go from here remains anyone’s guess as they help carry the torch for rock ‘n’ roll in 2022, but with another album cycle under their belts soon, those prospects feel just as exciting as where they’ve already been.

Setlist:
Typhoons
Boilermaker
Lights Out
Come on Over
Trouble’s Coming
Hook, Line & Sinker
Honeybrains
Little Monster
How Did We Get So Dark?
Blood Hands
Million and One
Limbo
Loose Change
Figure It Out

Encore:
All We Have Is Now
Ten Tonne Skeleton
Out of the Black