Royal Blood Bring Debut Album Out Of The Black At Reopened Brixton Academy

Have you been to the reopened Brixton Academy yet? The approach is a bit different, isn’t it? What feels like miles of pedestrian guardrail guides you around the block containing the entire venue, so your correspondent certainly got their steps in tonight. You’re also repeatedly reminded to get your ticket ready by an entire legion of security staff on your intrepid journey through this south London outpost. The silver lining was the fact you could hear Royal Blood sound checking as you walked, so it wasn’t all bad.

Royal Blood @ Brixton Academy

Royal Blood @ Brixton Academy (Abigail Shii)
Royal Blood @ Brixton Academy (Abigail Shii)

Once inside, the audience stretched their calves out in anticipation for the support act, Crawlers, a Liverpool 4-piece on the rise.

They open with Hit It Again, hip swinging vocalist, Holly Minto’s rich timbre bringing on clapping from the sizeable crowd gathered to see these bright young things. Minto explained that their record producer used to say to them in the studio, ‘Play this like it’s your first time playing Brixton’ and they do just that with Better I Just Pretend. The too-short support set is brought to a close with a brilliant rendition of Messiah brought to life with some Peter Hook-style work high on the fretboard from bass player Liv Kettle.

Crawlers explain that Royal Blood’s eponymous first album was the reason the band first picked up their instruments, so they are certainly in luck this evening as Royal Blood are here to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their debut by playing it in full. In another example of time marching on, I still think of Royal Blood as one of the ‘new breed of British rock’, yet here we are, ten years into their career, still playing to packed houses.

After a mass audience singalong to unofficial Australian National Anthem ‘The Voice’ by John Farnham, played over the PA – the duo of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher arrive onstage and proceed to tear through the album.

Opener Out Of The Black is accompanied by a punishing combination of bass drum and strobe lights; it really is an assault on the senses and lets the crowd know the type of night they are in for. Drummer Thatcher then surprises everybody in the building by diving head first into the crowd! He’s hoisted and carried about twenty rows back, clearly loving being in with his people – what a start to the show.

The crowd knows every word to hit singles Come On Over and Figure It Out and the venue is bouncing now, as Kerr plays his bass guitar with one hand, channelling Angus Young as he incites the crowd. Mike Kerr really is a master of his craft – he plays his bass through a multi-effects pedal to create the unique, crunching Royal Blood sound, his hands all over the fretboard, and all this whilst singing his own lyrics too. For a duo, with the accompaniment of Ben Thatcher’s metronomic skill, these two really make an incredible racket, which is a delight to hear.

Back to the set, where You Can Be So Cruel showcases Kerr’s falsetto register. There is a slight lull in proceedings for the Zep-like Blood Hands, but the huge riff still cuts through the atmosphere nicely though, as empty two pint cups fly through the air, the crowd now realise the album will be played in order and they react accordingly.

The highlight of the evening is Little Monster, still an absolute banger after ten years, but given added power and poignancy as Shane Hawkins, the son of late, great Foo Fighters drummer, Taylor Hawkins is introduced. Thatcher steps aside and looks on as Shane demonstrates his tight playing with extravagant fills. He’s certainly inherited some of his dad’s skill and showmanship. Knowing that Royal Blood and Hawkins senior were great friends, this is a fitting tribute and a real privilege to witness, and the crowd respond in kind.

During Loose Change, Kerr leaves the crowd waiting for the double time outro, lapping up the adulation from those present. Careless is a song they rarely play live, but the cobwebs are blown off well, with the chemistry of their long-standing friendship shining through. A powerful rendition of debut album highlight Ten Tonne Skeleton instigates some crowd surfers, before the album is completed with Better Strangers showing Kerr’s coordination and skill again.

The stage background covering now changes from the album cover to a giant tiger’s head, heralding both the ‘singles / greatest hits’ portion and also a keyboard player joining the duo onstage. The swaggering groove of Boilermaker from the Josh Homme produced lockdown album Typhoons fills the room to the crowd’s delight. It’s great to see the attention to detail in the lighting here, the lights echoing the pink and blue hues from the Typhoons album cover.

Mountains At Midnight is the first ‘new’ track of the night, from back to basics current album Back To The Water Below. The new material sits well with what we have already heard tonight. Supermodel Avalanches follows, with the brilliantly set up turbocharged metal ending getting the biggest cheer of the night.

During Typhoons, the crowd sing all the words AND all the guitar lines – including the falsetto ‘Typhooooooonssss’ – this is more Homme-and-synth-infused magic, during which at least one crowd member decides this is the right time to start launching his SHOES into the air. I hope he was wearing clean socks.

Piano-driven Pull Me Through is a chance for everyone to put their shoes back on and enjoy some newer music again, and One Trick Pony, a B-Side to the previously played Ten Tonne Skeleton, is a canny companion piece to the first album. Main set closer Lights Out brings us full circle with another assault on the senses, with Shane Hawkins spotted air drumming in the wings and the crowd bellowing every word.

An encore of Waves, Trouble’s Coming (a song your kids may know from the BBC reboot of Gladiators) and finally closing with the title track from second album How Did We Get So Dark? it’s slippery riff inspiring the most euphoric singalong yet.

So, these ‘young’ rock upstarts Royal Blood are now ten years into their career. I’m not sure many in the audience can fully believe that, but we’re certainly looking forward to seeing what these guys can deliver over the next ten years, having enjoyed a brilliant celebration of their now-classic debut. And your correspondent is pleased to report that the reopened Brixton Academy is still an excellent venue, replete with fake castle turrets, trees and yes, flying shoes.

Live review of Royal Blood @ Brixton Academy, London on 18th June 2024 by Alex Kavanagh. Photography by Abigail Shii.

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