If Royal Blood’s on-stage tantrum at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend last month taught us anything, it’s that the duo – vocalist/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher – don’t take kindly to an underwhelmed audience. And while punters close to the Pyramid Stage (the ones you can see on the telly) make the scene look as if it’s all kicking off – with a mosh pit or two ignited by a few eager fans – it’s not many rows back before the crowd begins to thin. It’s a total pendulum swing in atmosphere from the recently finished Foo Fighters, who had packed out the area to its corners, with fans bobbing their heads and singing out into the sun.
In spite of the petered-out audience, the band walk out onstage with a quiet confidence, gazing over the revellers like a pair of carnivorous animals flexing their talons, before the inevitable swoop down onto their prey. Opener Out Of The Black is as good of an attack as any, with the band’s split-pedalled riffs punching out like a grandiose fist, walloping the surrounding farm with the sound of its familiar weight.
While it’s pretty clear that Royal Blood’s initial burst to fame in 2013 left an imprint on a handful, the fact that material from their first two records, 2014’s self-titled debut and 2017’s How Did We Get So Dark? is doing most of the legwork – with the three songs played from 2021’s Typhoons failing to produce anything close to the same impact as tracks such as Come On Over, Little Monster and Ten Tonne Skeleton – its all pretty telling. Whatever power they once had, it seems to have all but gone.
With their booking so high on the bill – and songs from a record released almost ten years ago generating the best response – the band’s relevancy at this point feels questionable. Royal Blood are certainly not the rock scene’s golden boys anymore, and their debut boom – from its earliest moments, when Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders repped them with an Royal Blood t-shirt during their last Glastonbury headline set in 2013 – has long past.
It begs the question: What are Royal Blood doing here so far up on the bill, sandwiched between two of the biggest – and most relevant – bands on the planet? Judging by the lack of people failing to give much of a shit in the midst of the crowd – even a man wearing a disco ball as a hat refuses to dance – no one seems sure.
After most of their songs are played, my friend brings things into a closer perspective, as she begins to sing the lyrics of other Royal Blood songs over the one that’s currently being played. “All their tracks sound exactly the same!”, she says.
And as they sign off with the meaty Figure It Out, my mate returns with the final nail in the coffin: “it’s like a fart with no poo”, which is exactly how their set feels. Yes, the bangers are there, the craftsmanship is there, but everything else feels tired at this point. “There’s no shit!”.
With all that said, it’s certainly possible for a band as innovative as Royal Blood to return to their former heights, but it’s probably about time they stop riding off their first two albums, went back to basics, and replenished their catalogue with new anthems.
Hopefully their forthcoming new album Back To The Water will reinstall some of that former magic.