David Jackson reviews Royal Blood, At The Drive-In and Black Honey at Arena Birmingham
By the end of Royal Blood's headline gig on Saturday, drums were lying scattered across the stage while a bass guitar, hanging on a mic stand, was ringing distorted and effect laden feedback out across the arena.
If there was any doubt whether a rock duo could command an arena and captivate 15,000 fans, over the course of 17 songs, singer and bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher proved conclusively the answers was ‘yes’.
Royal Blood are currently playing across the country as part of their tour supporting their new album How Did We Get So Dark and at the weekend headlined Arena Birmingham.
Along for the ride was El Paso rock icons At The Drive-In and Brighton's indie rock outfit Black Honey - and we'll address this straight away.
None of these bands seemed natural 'bedfellows' and the line up had more akin with a mid-afternoon at the Reading Festival than an indoor area gig the middle of the Midlands.
However, it worked perfectly - despite leaving the odd casual observer a little perplexed at times.
Openers Black Honey have been picking up a fans on the back of a string of indie rock with huge pop choruses.
Led by Izzy Phillips, the four piece - whose debut album is out next year - confidently raced through a short seven song set.
Wearing vivid green dress and with stark blonde hair, Phillips dominated the stage.
Highlights of the set included the excellent Somebody Better and new single Dig.
If Black Honey remained somewhat rooted to their respective stage positions, ATDI frontman Cedric Bixler more than made up for this.
It's pushing 20 years since their landmark LP Relationship Of Command but they are still captivating to watch.
Shortly after maracas introduced opening track Arcarsenal, At The Drive-In exploded into life.
Now sporting a greying beard, Bixler remained a blur throughout their set, leaping off the bass drum at regular intervals and hurling his microphone stand high into the air.
ATDI split their set between tracks from the aforementioned LP and latest record in*ter-a*li*a.
No Wolf Like The Present and Governed By Contagions proved the post-hardcore act are still a force to be reckoned with and still thrilling to witness live - even if some of those entering the arena having been introduced to the headliners via daytime radio were left looking somewhat stumped by their noisy punky discord.
If you're wondering, ‘how did Royal Blood dominate a stage suitable for dozens’, the answer is with lasers, LEDs and video projections which all went some considerable way to creating an electrifying atmosphere.
With bassist Kerr set stage right, drummer Thatcher was set on a small drum rise opposite.
Royal Blood’s set stuck to the tried and tested formula which has won them so many fans.
Meaty bass riffs - layered with effects - pounding drum beats and killer hooks and choruses.
They opened with Lights Out from their latest LP before launching straight into Where Are You Now with the 15,000 strong crowed erupting into life.
Throughout the set, Kerr provided a masterclass in somehow managing to prowl around the stage and walkway as frontman while also playing lead and rhythm riffs simultaneously on his bass.
Come On Over saw the duo surrounded by dozens of red lasers while Little Monster, complete with a mid-song drum solo, was among the early highlights.
Mid way through their set, Kerr paused to talk to the Birmingham crowd.
"This is so surreal, I can't believe this is happening,” he explained.
"This is the biggest gig we've ever done in case you wonder why we look terrified.
"What's weirder for us is you play these songs and you're remember where you were when you wrote them. We never thought we'd be playing them in an arena."
The truth is, neither Kerr nor Thatcher looked in the slightest bit out of their comfort zone, rather relishing in every minute of their set.
Loose Change and Figure It Out brought their set to a close before Royal Blood returned for an encore featuring the pounding Ten Tonne Skeleton and Out of the Black.
By the end of the encore, Kerr was swinging his bass around the stage, creating deafening noises while Thatcher had jumped off the walkway into the crowd, eventually re-emerging for the pair to leave the stage together.
While Birmingham was the pair's biggest headline gig to date, if Royal Blood continue on this form, they'll be playing to thousands more for years to come.
Royal Blood played:
Where Are You Now?
Come on Over
You Can Be So Cruel
I Only Lie When I Love You
Look Like You Know
Hook, Line & Sinker
Hole in Your Heart
How Did We Get So Dark?
Figure It Out
Ten Tonne Skeleton
Out of the Black
At The Drive In played:
No Wolf Like the Present
Pattern Against User
Governed By Contagions
One Armed Scissor
Black Honey played:
All My Pride
* The show took place on Saturday November 18. Visit www.seetickets.com/tour/royal-blood for future Royal Blood tour dates.