Photographs by Randall Vasquez.
Blink and you may have missed Royal Blood’s arrival in Toronto. It seemed the pair were in and out with none too much fanfare, despite a sizable amount of buzz and a more than apparent ability to play to a much larger room.
But even without the expected chatter, it was a triumphant showing for Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher, making their first appearance in Toronto on Tuesday night and selling out Lee’s Palace in support of their self-titled debut. The duo has done well in their home country of Europe – finding fans in the Arctic Monkeys, attracting the attention of publications such as the BBC and NME, and picking up a 2014 Mercury Prize nomination for the album. As their Tuesday night show would prove: it’s hype that’s well warranted.
Openers Kan Wakan joined Royal Blood on the bill. The Los Angeles five-piece were also losing their Canadian virginity that night, making the inevitable comments about “how nice” everyone was throughout their set. Instrumentally, they were heavy on bass and drum lines – albeit not in a Royal Blood sort of way, but more in a “every 90’s movie montage you’ve ever watched” type of sound.
The band proved adept at big, rising moments with vocalist KP falling somewhere between the timbre lines of Dido and London Grammar. It wasn’t a perfect set – her voice at times too light and airy in comparison to the band’s otherwise forceful sound, and the band itself on unsure footing during certain instrumental moments – but it was a promising one with Kan Wakan exploring uncharted territory in their compositions and harmonies. Give it some time, let them tour it some more, and hopefully they’ll figure out the details (including making it all a little bit more convincing.)
Royal Blood, meanwhile, seem poised for all the fanfare they can handle, knocking out a particularly polished set of 12 riotous numbers that had fists in the air and sweat flying from one body to the next.
Opening with “Hole”, from their Out of the Black EP, the duo seem so firmly positioned in the blues rock, Americana lexicon – the caveat here being their status as UK passport holders. It’s also fairly obvious that comparisons to other famous North American duos will follow, what with the success and adoration of bands such as the White Stripes and Death From Above 1979.
They’re fans of the genre, to be sure, but there’s no risk of Royal Blood sounding like a carbon copy. They’ve shrouded their approach to a fairly clean (but notably still abrasive) bass sound in mysterious – see restrictions on taking photos of Kerr’s pedalboard – and are apparently aware of the interest in it. Exactly how Kerr gets his bass to sound so very different from everything else out there is a big part of their appeal. So too is the connection between Kerr and Thatcher – the latter making intense drum rolls look like an otherwise breezy walk in the park.
Of the night’s highlights: “You Can Be So Cruel” would be a song to make Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age melt, while “Better Strangers” holds the type of chant-along chorus that immediately ingrains itself in your head.
“We’ve never even fucking been here, so how did this happen?” Kerr asked mid-way through the set to a throng of moshing bodies, introducing “Ten Tonne Skeleton”. The Toronto crowd was also treated to a new addition to Royal Blood’s live catalogue – the band trotting out “Careless” for its on-stage debut.
Even with the new song the set was just a preview of Royal Blood’s capabilities, clocking in at under an hour in length and sans-encore (despite a huge round of applause encouraging one on.) As a mass of sweaty guys filed from the venue out to Bloor Street, the Royal Blood show already feels like something fans are going to look back on in 10 years and think “Yeah, I was there for that.”
It is clear the band knows what they’re doing and the hype has only magnified it. There’s a market for their sound – and Royal Blood won’t have any trouble finding more interested people to embrace their impressive rock n’ roll sound. Fair warning: they’ll win you over. Just let it happen.