Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Alternative Nation. Also, “Oh yes I did!”
Through the last half-decade or more there has been a resounding call from music fans around the world for more good rock music. If the world’s population increases exponentially by the second, why aren’t we drowning in a sea of young Robert Plants and Layne Staleys right now? The 1970’s and 1990’s are arguably heralded as the two most significant periods for rock music. The 70’s saw the rise, then the decline of rock, when bands like Seattle’s Heart traded in their guitars and bell-bottoms for synthesizers and hairspray. Definitely a weird time for music.
Thankfully, for every teenage girl singing Cyndi Lauper into a hairbrush, was her younger brother, listening to Misfits and Black Sabbath records. But without that increasingly generic and uninspired pop music, there’s no catalyst for the rebellion that gives birth to the underground punk movement, which put the wheels in motion for the grunge era.
Mudhoney, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, STP, Hole, Mad Season, Smashing Pumpkins, L7, Temple Of The Dog… I doubt that I have to underscore how much great music came from this era. Oops, how did I miss Nirvana? Nirvana was the alternative/grunge/rock band that changed everything. I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if not for Nirvana and the impact they had. This site probably wouldn’t exist either.
Grunge had its moment in the sun, and to many of us is still the gold standard for guitar-driven rock, but the dissolving of Nirvana after Cobain’s death, signified the beginning of its end as an era, as many other grunge staples called it quits not long after. However, almost 20 years later, rock fans’ demands for another movement have only become louder. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s pioneers like Dave Grohl and Kim Thayil advancing the notion another such movement is just around the corner, but either way, there is a demand for it, much like was capitalized on in the early 1990’s. Heavy, undiluted & raw, it was a musical rebellion that questioned society’s norms, celebrated teen angst, and most importantly, made you think you could do it, too.
This week I was in attendance for a sold-out Royal Blood show in Philadelphia. If you just said, “Who?” you’re probably not alone, and simultaneously are in for a treat. I really didn’t know them for much more than a song they put out a few years ago called, “Little Monster,” which is a really cool song, but in a world of radio-friendly one-hit-wonders, I was reluctant to dig deeper. So I didn’t. My loss.
One of the reasons Nirvana resonated so well was Kurt Cobain’s ability to translate his story into simple, yet no less sonically inspiring, compositions, adding his personal flair to each one, while keeping it all to a minimum. No curly-cues and no frills, just straight to the point. Perhaps Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher were paying attention to that recipe when they were working on their eponymous debut album. Pulling influences from bands like Queens Of The Stone Age & Kyuss, Muse, White Stripes, and even Led Zeppelin, the pair strip it raw and just rock out.
At their show on Wednesday the crowds’ response was akin to the energy levels you’d expect at a punk show. Checking their inhibitions at the door, crowd surfers and headbangers were wall-to-wall inside Union Transfer, entirely losing themselves in the music. Royal Blood are not an unknown band by any means, but there was a difference in the crowd’s reaction to the typical big names. It was more of a knee-jerk reaction to the music than it was to the brand. And not being entirely acclimated with the band’s catalog, I can absolutely attest to that fact.
Mike Kerr, bassist, and voice of the band, appeared to be seven feet tall as he sauntered onto the stage to a detonation of applause from the 1,200+ in attendance. After a quick wave to the audience, he strapped into his bass and commenced face melting, introducing a track from their new album, How Did We Get So Dark?, slated for release this Friday, June 16th. Throughout the show, Mike proved himself to be a dominating presence on the stage and quickly lived up to the reputation given him by his explosive vocals and heavier-than-thou guitar-inspired bass riffs.
Ben Thatcher, the crux of this rhythm driven two-piece, was more poised and disciplined than his stage-tramping counterpart, retaining a focused, yet relaxed, air about him, even as his hands became a blur, skimming across his Gretsch drum kit. He did engage the crowd, though, during an encore extended version of their hit, “Out Of The Black,” coming out from behind the drums and walking out onto the rail, and shaking hands with fans and handing off some drumsticks.
These 2 guys, from Brighton, England, however, have unlocked something in people that I haven’t seen in a long time. It wasn’t just the fact that they were able to ignite the crowd. Any band worth their salt should be able to do that. It was more of a feeling that resonated from within the age-diverse crowd. At one point, well into the show, I witnessed a guy, smack in the middle of the horde, probably late 40’s, sporting a retreating hairline, glasses, and now-wrinkled corporate monkeysuit, emphatically serving as a “wave” for a barrage of crowd surfers. Another guy who I talked to as we were waiting for the band to take the stage was there with his 2 teenaged kids, but donning a Soundgarden shirt made it plain to see that he wasn’t just there to chaperone. Lucky bastard had seen Soundgarden at Red Rocks! Such a blending of age groups for a band that isn’t from the 90’s probably hasn’t happened much since the 90’s.
I remember my own father, being a 90’s teen myself, getting into all of the same bands that I was getting into at the time, and he had grown up on Led Zeppelin and the Stones, for God’s sake. You don’t just wantonly get into a new band. There are rules. Standards. Nowadays, if they want that ‘thumbs up’ on your music player they have to pass all the tests the bands that came before them did. I’ve been listening all week to the 10-track debut of Royal Blood and they’ve definitely earned that. They earned this piece. And lucky them, they only have to split it two-ways.
When I make the Nirvana comparison, I’m not inferring that there’s going to be an explosion of 2-piece rock bands coming out of Brighton, though that would be awesome. It’s the energy coming from these 2 musicians that is being reacted to and reciprocated by its fans that is reminiscent of some of the finest times in rock music. It’s not to say, however, that other bands need not rise up to join them. That’s what makes it a movement, and not just one cool band with a great original sound. So many of the other integral pieces are already in place. There’s an undeniable demand, the current social landscape is rife with pent up anger, no matter which side of it you may fall on, and Royal Blood just proved all it takes is you and one of your buddies. And if that doesn’t inspire the next big rock movement, we probably don’t deserve one.
Stay tuned for the interview Alternative Nation did with Mike.
Royal Blood are playing the Bonaroo Festival in Tennessee today, then heading back overseas where they’ll gas Glastonbury, put a hurting on the Hurricane Festival (Germany), and, obviously, rock the Roskilde in Denmark, with other dates in between before returning to the U.S. in August for a few more dates, wrapping up that road trip at Seattle’s infamous Showbox Theater, Portland’s Roseland Theater, and San Francisco’s Golden State Park.