Around this time 10 years ago, Arctic Monkeys were beginning to release material into the wider world, and at the same time injecting a new lease of life into ‘indie rock’ (whatever that happens to mean these days). It was music that was tailor made for sweaty, intimate rooms with only a hundred or so people; 18 months later, those songs were being played to crowds of thousands. However, it took them a remarkably long time for them to become the slick and accomplished arena-filling group they’ve become.
All of this is worth mentioning because, one decade on, indie success story of the moment Royal Blood have had a similar trajectory. They have been suddenly catapulted into the limelight off the back of the biggest-selling record by a rock band in the UK for three years, as well as a Mercury Prize nomination and a recent BRITs triumph. This has meant that small clubs have almost been bypassed entirely for more grandiose surroundings such as the Brixton Academy. The key question is this: can they rise above the tidal wave of hype and show that they are ready to command larger spaces?
This is by far the biggest headlining show they’ve played to date, but any qualms over whether or not they belong at a venue this size are swiped away within seconds. They immediately invite everyone to let loose and just rock out (easy enough for a rowdy crowd on a Friday night), making for a truly feverish atmosphere. Despite the thick banks of lights behind them, Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher are the centre of attention. Their musicianship is solid and they both convey enough confidence without appearing too cocky.
Their debut album is sharp, concise and to the point, which makes for a refreshingly no-nonsense, unpretentious thrill ride of a show. Granted, it’s only a 13-track set – barely over an hour and seemingly built from everything they’ve ever written – but nearly every song is greeted with a gargantuan roar. The distinctive and supersized hooks of Figure It Out and Litte Monster sound mighty. Even tracks that suffer a bit on record such as Loose Change and Better Strangers get a new lease of life. The only tune that falls flat is You Want Me, which comes across as the very definition of ‘filler material’.
Royal Blood must have been aiming for a headlining show at Brixton Academy at some point in their lives, but they’re clearly in awe that it’s happened so soon. If they had any stage fright, it’s been well hidden. Their ability to seize an audience is masterful and impressive for a band on a debut album. The one thing stopping them from stratospheric success is that they don’t have a massively dynamic back catalogue, and all the liveliness doesn’t mask the fact that they need to show off some new tricks. Their future achievements will depend on how much they’re willing to chop up their sound, almost as much as their ability to write gigantic, thumping anthems. That said, in the space of 60 minutes, there’s enough reason to believe that they have the potential to be a first-rate band.