LIVE: Royal Blood / At The Drive-In / Black Honey @ First Direct Arena, Leeds

By Liam Knowles

Tonight’s headliners, Brighton rock duo Royal Blood, are something of a success story. They only formed in 2013 and yet here they are, a mere four years later, selling out multiple shows at some of the largest venues in the UK. They’ve done it the right way, starting at the bottom and working their way up, albeit with a little help from friends in established bands. Even if they’re not your cup of tea, it’s hard to hold their success against them.

Now that Royal Blood are themselves an established band, they can help the little guy and have done so several times with opening act and regular tour mates Black Honey, who waste no time warming up the steadily growing crowd with their charming indie rock. There are hints of Ash and old No Doubt in their sound, which is crisp and clear allowing Izzy Phillips’ vocal to shine through on tracks like “All My Pride” and recent single “Dig”.

The main support act tonight are a controversial choice. Post-hardcore legends At The Drive-In played an integral part in pioneering an entire genre at the turn of the century, and their album ‘Relationship Of Command’ (which came out seventeen years ago!) is widely considered to be one of the most important and influential punk rock records of all time. When this support announcement was made, there were several cries of “there’s no way they should be supporting!” and “it should be the other way round!” from the purists. Whilst it’s easy to see their point on this, there’s no doubt ATDI will be grateful of the opportunity to showcase their material, new and old, to such a massive, mostly untapped crowd. Unfortunately the El Paso natives suffer from sound issues that leave Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s distinctive voice a little muffled, but the energy and passion of the delivery is undeniable. Classic tracks like ‘Arcarsenal’ and ‘Enfilade’ go down a storm with the small group of people who clearly aren’t there to see Royal Blood, and the newer tracks like ‘Governed By Contagions’ really hold their own against the more established tracks. The crowd livens up a bit for the iconic closer ‘One Armed Scissor’, but despite a great performance it feels like At The Drive-In went over a lot of people’s heads tonight.

The arena is packed to the rafters as Royal Blood take to the stage and launch straight into ‘Lights Out’. The crowd reaction is rapturous but to be honest the band themselves are a little quiet. The clarity of sound is fantastic but for a band solely reliant on bass they do lack that chest-rattling tremor you’d be sure to get from someone with a similar dynamic like Death From Above 1979 or Big Business. It would likely be a different story in a smaller venue but they’re a bit lost, both sonically and in terms of stage presence, in a place this size. Regardless, the crowd lap up the big numbers like ‘Little Monster’ and ‘Figure It Out’, singing every word back to vocalist Mike Kerr, who genuinely looks absolutely thrilled and humbled to be playing gigs of this calibre.

The crowd are a notably quieter during the album tracks, which would suggest a decent proportion of the crowd are there to hear the songs they know off the radio. This is indeed unfortunate for a band who would likely be a totally different beast in a venue half the size with a crowd of ravenous, album-buying fans at their beck and call. As Royal Blood close out with their signature track ‘Out Of The Black’ and the punters pour out into the cold Leeds air, people have clearly had a great time but the whole thing has just felt very safe and sterile. It’s disappointing to see a band work this hard, get this far, and fall short of the mark. That said, they’re young and their career has only just really started. If they can keep up the momentum of their success then maybe when they’re trying to make their next arena tour a real spectacle, they won’t struggle to ‘figure it out’.