Fox Theater, Oakland
November 10, 2023
Photos by Raymond Ahner
There was a restless, unpredictable energy in the air in downtown Oakland long before English alt rock/groove duo Royal Blood fired up the Fox Theater stage for the second show of the US leg of their Back To The Water Below tour, in promotion of the release which just hit in September.
In fact, some fans venturing across Telegraph Ave. to enter the Fox on this evening can officially count themselves as diehards of the dynamic duo of drummer Ben Thatcher and vocalist, bassist, noise maker Mike Kerr, as they literally had to risk life and limb before entering the show.
Crossing the street (with the light), folks had to break into a run to dodge cars suddenly blowing through the streetlights in front of the Fox, drag racing and spinning into a side show that left donut rings on the pavement and rubber-smelling smoke hovering in the air.
Once inside the friendly confines of the legendary downtown venue, things normalized before Royal Blood turned up the heat, blasting on to the stage and turning back the clock to the 2014 EP Out of the Black with the groove-heavy swagger of ‘Hole.’ By the time Kerr’s opening lyrical line “She turns it off when I’m comin’ home…” left his lips, all perilous memories of the goings on outside were ancient history.
Hitting like a ten-ton hammer, Kerr strangled his bass into making deep fuzz-toned rhythmic groans and high-pitched wails, sounding like he was playing bass and guitar simultaneously. All the while he seduced the microphone with a delivery that went from sultry whispers to higher register screams that at times hit Geddy Lee territory.
The mayhem continued as Kerr plucked out the grinding bass guitar assault of ‘Come On Over’ backed by Thatcher’s pounding gallop behind the drum kit. Thatcher then turned the beat on its head putting the crowd on a rhythmic rollercoaster with the hip-hop infused bounce of ‘Boilermaker’ (Typhoons – 2021), the reaction was instantaneous and overwhelming as the dance floor came alive and the temperature in the Fox increased.
The crowd, represented by a majority of 40-something men generally dressed in dark clothing, with many bearded, bespectacled, and wearing baseball hats, suddenly began head bobbing and pogoing in unison as if on a trampoline. It was here that Thatcher cracked out the intro beat to ‘Mountains at Midnight,’ and Royal Blood unfurled the first of six songs from Back To The Water Below.
In fact, Thatcher’s drumming is so uncannily locked in that he probably breathes in time when he sleeps. An incessant synchronization of hands and feet manipulating sticks and pedals into an aural attack that moves people at their core.
Supported by the stellar utility play of Darren James who joins the band on tour to round out their layered sound with keyboard/synthesizer play and spot on harmonies to thicken the live performance, Royal Blood did not let up as there was little banter with the crowd to slow down their momentum.
The place got lifted as they lit up the stage with the back-to-back-to-back run of ‘Shiner in the Dark,’ ‘Triggers’ and ‘Trouble’s Coming,’ all delivered with a heavy dose of rock drenched groove that shares space in the rock-o-sphere with fellow bombastic yet minimalist bands Muse, White Stripes, and Arctic Monkeys.
Before the close of the regular set the lights went down for a handful of seconds, eliciting whoops and hollers throughout the general admission floor. Suddenly there was a strobe of lights that flashed in time with the machine gun drum intro to the straight-ahead rock bulldozer ‘Out of the Black.’
Kerr then joined in and grabbed the crowd by the throat, screeching out “How did it feel when it came alive and took you.out of the black?” By the end of the song he had fans in the palm of his hand cheering for more as Royal Blood retreated into the darkness.
Returning for a three-song encore, it was the crushing closing pair of ‘Ten Tonne Skeleton’ and ‘Figure It Out’ that brought the house down, sending the sellout crowd to the exits. Watch out when you cross the street!! Well, what do you know, OPD was on the scene to ensure that the departure was not nearly as harrowing as the approach.
British tour mates Hotwax opened the night for Royal Blood by playing a brand of alternative rock that is reminiscent of a mash up of 90s standouts Hole, The Breeders, and Luscious Jackson.
Leading off with the notably infectious ‘High Tea’ (Invite Me Kindly – EP 2023), the trio of vocalist/guitarist Talullah Sim-Savage, bassist Lola Sam, and drummer Alfie Sayers was very energetic and engaging with the early crowd, playfully posturing while they rocked out to a crowd that quickly took to them.
‘E-flat’ and ‘A Thousand Times’ showed their versatility as the songs swayed from hard-hitting to trippy, droning psychedelia and back with tight musicianship and a honed sound that was crisply played with a good dirty edge.
Their closer ‘Drop’ had a Batman groove that was used as an ignition point to a sonic explosion during the chorus. When it all came crashing to an end, the crowd gave a good ovation as a thank you to Hotwax, a new band now fixed on their rock radar.