The Hammersmith Apollo (or Eventim Apollo, as it’s now known) is packed. In fact, ‘packed’ barely begins to describe the wall of fans pressed shoulder to shoulder to catch a glimpse of Brightonian duo Royal Blood, who have crammed themselves in a good forty minutes before the band come onstage. There’s a tangible excitement in the air, and we’d later discover how much the band deserved it. Throughout the evening, they’d demonstrate their ability to create a microcosm of festival stage and atmosphere into the small space of the venue.
Royal Blood @ Hammersmith Apollo
As the theme from The Good The Bad And The Ugly swings over the audience, the vast lighting array that forms the backdrop for the stage announces Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher’s strutting entrance with a series of purple pulses. These turn orange like a sunrise as the opening slams of Mountains At Midnight open the slow draining pit area at the front of the stage. Their higher vocal parts already become choral and the sound of a universal ‘woo’ would become a thread that tied together most of their set, a recurring motif of theme park excitement. The pit swells as Royal Blood seamlessly switch to Come On Over and Kerr’s vocals grows more seductive. We fall over ourselves to jump to the heartbeat drums and the slow pulling notes from Kerr’s bass.
“I can’t tell you quite how good it feels to be here tonight,” grins the 33-year-old frontman just before his bolshy stomping light show makes the intro to Boilermaker hyper-real. Every song serves to makes the pit stir and the beat grow more ferociously. The way that Royal Blood mix syrupy sweet vocals with spiky, grimy riffs is intoxicating: Kerr’s wail is pure Matt Bellamy innocence over a scalpel sharp bass solo on Shiner In The Dark. That sweetness switches to almost jeering and chanting on Hook Line & Sinker, heating the lengthening pit to a roiling, undulating boil. Their love of contrasting the mechanical and the playful turns Triggers into a scarlet pulsing grinder of a song.
It’s not all Tron-meets-Hot-Chip intensity though. When an interlude comes and a touch of featherlike tenderness enters the mix, there’s a cleansing beauty in the air. ‘Brand new song’ Pull Me Through wraps that underlying power behind everything the duo produce in soft cotton, and there’s a gorgeous moment when Kerr stands alone in natural lighting, letting the slow keyboard line luxuriously fade. Then, a smash and our temporary peace is shattered as the grunge strokes of Little Monster stomp across the crowd. There’s far more metal in their performance than Royal Blood would be happy to admit as the tidal wave of their sound builds and the lights behind evolve into a pixelated Vegas show.
In the crowd, someone films their hands raving to Out Of The Black, making their dance into their own personal performance to their friends. The bass howls in the bright stops and starts as we sing along, making each beat into its own lyric as we rejoice in the sonic equivalent of a car chase. Thatcher abandons his drum kit, complete with huge gong, and launches himself into the crowd to meet his worshippers and divide the crowd-sea for an impending mosh pit as Kerr knots him a feedback safety net.
The slower interlude of Waves is a welcome and refreshing depth for Royal Blood amid the toxic grinding of the rest of the show and introduces a guitarist to the stage, and Ten Tonne Skeleton’s delicate looping compresses the huge sound even further. It’s the staccato enlightenment of Figure It Out that finally brings out an eruption in the crowd, a jumping lava flow that seems slow motion and real time at once. Long celebratory solos on bass and drums draw out this joyful moment for a few seconds longer as both we and Royal Blood seek to make the most of this evening.
With a heady combination of sweet and harsh, Royal Blood prove exactly how they’ve racked up millions of streams, drawn massive festival crowds and sold out arenas far larger than this 5,000-capacity Hammersmith hall. It’s a live show to remember, a feat of forcing a stadium show into a miniature space with no loss of intensity, and we can only imagine to what heights Kerr and Thatcher will take their spectacle next.
Review of Royal Blood at the Hammersmith Apollo on 24th October 2023 by Kate Allvey. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.