I don’t often go to arena tours. Bands that have risen to mass-market fame generally, and quite rightly, do the stadium-style rounds and I just prefer the buzz of a smaller, sweatier environment. So, I’ll call myself out here — when Royal Blood put on their killer Tuesday night headliner at Leeds’ whopping First Direct Arena, that was my first experience of the place, believe it or not. Guilty.
By 7:45pm, the room had filled, seats had been taken, and people had sensibly turned out for The Amazons. They were Royal Blood’s only support choice and you’d have been forgiven for thinking they were the main event. Honestly? They were for me. Having seen them back at The Key Club in February 2019, when they did a spell of more intimate gigs, I knew I was in for something wild. The four-piece are endearingly humble yet talented beyond their realisation, clearly. They should get very accustomed to performing to crowds as vast, and under rich, kaleidoscopic lights so bright and epic.
Through a mushroom cloud of sweet vape smoke and as half-empty plastic cups of discarded pints flew, ‘In My Mind’, ‘Mother’, ‘Doubt It’, ‘Black Magic’ and all the usual suspects were served to the sea of hungry-for-more faces. And in a bid to build hype around their upcoming album, ‘How Will I Know If Heaven Will Find Me?’, they gave us ‘Bloodrush’. It’s a fresh, certified banger that’s not been out long, but everyone already knew the words. The band also played two tantalising, yet-to-drop tracks that I’m absolutely desperate to hear again. It’s safe to say I couldn’t be more excited for the new material.
A little late for Leeds, a mosh pit emerged during the penultimate song, and the atmosphere lifted another notch. It signalled the start of an unwavering energy that The Amazons had teed up for Royal Blood. It was touching to hear how much they revered and were grateful to them for bringing them along on tour, too. As frontman, Matt Thomson, outlined, it had been a beacon of hope during a dark, pandemic-impacted time, and you could detect how glad people were to be back in the arena watching them as well. There was a palpable understanding shared among everybody in the room as that sentiment was communicated. It’s that special engagement between fans and artists that I often think gets lost in the space and gravity of a venue of that size, but The Amazons — what legends — went and shattered that misconception.
With grins on faces, Dark Fruits in hands, the folk at First Direct were impeccably positioned for the 90 minutes of pure modern rock righteousness that Royal Blood gifted. They were immense, there’s no denying it. And there were well-thought-out, hooking nuances that kept every eye front and centre; the sizzling drum solo from Ben Thatcher, the piano-only piece during the encore from Mike Kerr, the photo with Taylor Hawkins in tribute… There was even a gong that got its 15 minutes’ worth — especially when The Amazons came back on at the end for hugs and goodbye waves.
‘Typhoons’ kicked it all off, then a medley of new and old tunes came out one after the other. I was delighted to hear my personal favourite, ‘Loose Change’, then the ultra-sexy riffs of ‘Boilermaker’, thunderous ‘Lights Out’, super-tight ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ and career-igniting ‘Figure It Out’ were all bold, brash and beautiful live. As for ‘Little Monster’, well, people were losing it. But it’s hard to mosh or dance on a sticky floor that gives quicksand a run for its money.
That said, the pair had everyone’s full attention. The thing about Royal Blood is there’s just two of them. It’s actually jaw-dropping what they’re able to produce as a duo, and that’s very obvious when they play in front of you. There’s also, somehow, no lack of dynamism or inter-band banter that you’d get from a bigger outfit; they’re equally as chatty and ask the audience just as much. They have a confidence but not an arrogance, a swagger but not a stomp.
Faultless stuff at First Direct Arena. And on a school night? Spoilt.
It was about time we got a bloodrush in, after all…