Royal Blood

support Nelson Can
author TL date 22/03/15 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

With only one EP, one album and two years of existence to their name, it's pretty remarkable that the British duo Royal Blood has already amassed the momentum to headline their own mainland tour of Europe, no doubt owing partly to a successful string of festival appearances last year. If you didn't know any better, you could attribute their rise to the 'gimmick' that they've opted for the bass instead of the guitar as their single leading instrument, but a quick listen to their eponymous album reveals that their songs speak entirely for themselves. It's not too surprising then, that VEGA's largest concert room ends up with people literally squeezed up against the walls tonight, following the performance of Denmark's very own Nelson Can in the support slot.

Rockfreaks.net's assigned photographer fell ill before the show, so the pictures in this article are stock images borrowed from the bands' sites

Nelson Can

You imagine that the girls in Nelson Can must be pretty satisfied with landing the gig as the support on the Scandinavian part of Royal Blood's tour, and it gives the shows an at least superficial sense of conceptual symmetry that both bands are restricted to drums, bass and vocals. Nelson Can counts an extra member in designated vocalist Selina Gin though, and as bassist Signe SigneSigne sings as well, they actually have an 'instrument' up on Royal Blood. And truly, Nelson Can's main strength is that both Gin and SigneSigne sing with considerable power and attitude and do so in proper harmony with each other. The group brings a badass attitude to bear, presenting songs like "Call Me When You Want To Get Laid" without blinking, and grooving to the music with confidence.

Regrettably, their material so far makes for a listening experience severely lacking in variation, as particularly the bass sticks to pretty much one simple riff per song, repeated infinitely while it's left for drummer Maria Juntunen to try and kick some dynamics into the picture. She does what she can on the skins, and the mix favours her, although a bit too much so, as the loudness of her strikes makes it even harder to hear the words being sung by Gin and SigneSigne, neither of who have the greatest articulation to begin with. Especially in the beginning, it's a struggle as SigneSigne moves a bit too energetically, swaying out of the reach of her mic for some of her parts.

These flaws in the performance are fairly minor though, as fans are likely to generally agree that the band looks good on stage and plays tightly. Their shortcoming is in their material, which becomes clear in a way that's less favourable when crowds will have Royal Blood demonstrate right after, what they can do with the same limited tools at hand. It figures that the group is intentionally going for a stripped down, primal rock expression, but unless they grow to compose more interestingly within their self-imposed dogma, they are going to need to let up a bit. Otherwise, a half hour support set is already slightly more than their songs can shoulder without getting samey and boring.

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Royal Blood

As the clock strikes nine, Vega's lights dim once more as Royal Blood step up on stage to the sound of pumping hip-hop, as if the band were title fight contenders jumping into the ring. And as bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher get things started, a boxing match analogy lends itself well to explain just how the duo gets so much out of their only two instruments. Their bluesy boogie rock simply juxtaposes its separate parts to straight up trade blows. There's constantly a dynamic between the two playing or holding off - between whether it's only Thatcher playing or Kerr adding a signature riff - between a swing from the lower bass notes or a jab from the high ones which sound like they could just as well have been from guitar - And similarly between whether it's the bass in the lead or the vocals.

So it goes, back and forth, on and off, dynamics 101 and it works wonders on a crowd whose arms are suddenly up in the air as they jerk back and forth to Thatcher's hard-hitting rhythms. It sounds like a bear ate AC/DC and Queens Of The Stone Age and digested any non-essential parts and spit the raw remains back out, while Kerr sings on top with a searing, soulful voice that simultaneously has power and a sense of laid back swagger to it. The band plays steadily through the impactful tracks from their only album, mindfully spreading the more hard-hitting cuts apart to give the show regular highlights, and while the intensity is kept at a good level consistently, tracks like "Figure It Out" and "Ten Tonne Skeleton" are good examples that lay down the law, as does "Loose Change", which is aired second to last and has great effect when it changes to double tempo halfway through.

With only one full-length album's worth of material released, Royal Blood have little more than half an hour's worth of material to play for us, yet while they are not particularly longwinded outside of a stop or three to show appreciation for the crowd, support band, country and so on, the set is stretched to just about fifty minutes, which is pretty much perfect. The regular efforts to incite activity on the floor, particularly from Kerr, work well to make this a dancing Sunday for the front half of Vega regardless of what Monday has in store. Meanwhile Thatcher, stationed well in view to the audience's right, delivers a forceful, yet primarily methodical performance, although he does occasionally display some excitement by getting up from his stool and leaning into some hits from a standing position.

The whole spectacle is framed nicely, by a monochrome banner at the back of the stage, and with panels of large yellow lightbulbs leaning down over the stage from the side, topped with strobes to establish a further dynamic between yellow and white lights. It boxes in a rock-solid, carefully measured performance from Royal Blood overall, as they get in, deliver their punches, and then get off before overstaying their welcome. Things merely end with no need for a fake encore, after a crowd surfer has gone halfway down the length of Vega and back, with Kerr squeezing the final energy out of both bass and audience with a knock-out performance of the start-stop badassery in "Out Of The Black". Devilishly simple and equally effective.

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