The seventh annual Governors Ball Music Festival took over Randall’s Island during the first week of June.
Returning from last year’s edition of the festival is Gov Ball After Dark, a series of late night concerts during which several other acts on the bill perform full-length shows at various clubs across the city.
One of the acts in this year’s lineup was acclaimed British rock duo Royal Blood, making their second Governors Ball appearance.
As part of Gov Ball After Dark, the band preceded its main festival appearance by playing a sold-out late night gig at the Warsaw Ballroom in Brooklyn on June 4, almost two weeks before the release of its long-awaited sophomore album, How Did We Get So Dark.
The night started with a midnight performance by The Shelters, an up-and-coming indie rock act that shares a label with Royal Blood.
Shortly before the one-year anniversary of its self-titled debut, the band reconvened to play the album in its entirety at the Warsaw.
While they are primarily an alternative rock band, The Shelters’ overall sound is a pastiche of other genres like blues, country and heartland rock, which is quite fitting considering their debut album was co-produced by legendary singer-songwriter-guitarist Tom Petty.
While it is too early to say if they will achieve the same amount of fame and legacy as other modern southern rock bands like The Black Crowes and Gov’t Mule, the enthusiasm and unabashed love for the genre that The Shelters showed in their music quickly won over the crowd and got the place amped for the headliners.
At 1 a.m., Royal Blood finally took the stage and despite it being very early in the morning, the band launched with an incredibly contagious sense of vim and vigor.
While the band has already been accustomed to playing stadiums and festivals around the world as supporting acts, there was something about performing in a small club like the Warsaw that amplified the performers’ talents to a level that made it seem like they were already headlining stadium shows.
The band’s studio recordings are already raw and brash to start with, but this time around the songs worked a lot better in a live setting, almost harkening back to the days of classic hard rock staples like Bad Company, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.
With just two members on stage throughout the show, Royal Blood certainly knows how to do a lot with little manpower.
Bass guitarist and vocalist Mike Kerr uses an arsenal of effects pedals and bass amplifiers to turn his bass guitar tone into a monstrous guitar tone reminiscent of other musicians like the late John Entwistle and Lemmy Kilmister.
His vocal range and swaggering stage presence also bears strong influences from classic singers like Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers, among many others.
Drummer Ben Thatcher provides the heavy-handed backbeat that puts him as a strong candidate for the modern equivalent to classic drummers like Ian Paice, Mitch Mitchell and the late great John Bonham.
Thatcher also serves as a sort of comic relief for the band. Compared to Kerr’s chatty persona on stage, Thatcher is noticeably quieter and opts instead for Charlie Chaplin-esque pantomime whenever he steps off his drum kit.
One memorable moment came near the end of the show. While Kerr launched into an extended bass solo, Thatcher climbed to the top of a stack of speakers and extended his arms as if he was going to stage dive on the crowd, much to the audience’s delight. After leaving them in suspense for a while, he climbed back down, thus dashing the moment in humorous fashion.
The show preceded the release of the band’s second album. As such, several new songs were played alongside a near-complete performance of the debut album.
Aside from the first two singles “Where Are You Now” and “Lights Out,” two more album tracks were included in the set list, “Hook, Line, & Sinker” and “I Only Lie When I Love You.”
Despite this set list, the overall show ended up being less than an hour long, barely longer than The Shelters’ own set. Looking at the band’s back catalog to date, it had more than enough recorded material for a longer set.
Aside from the first two albums, the band also has a handful of non-album B-sides and several reimagined cover songs it performed on BBC. All things considered, the show could have easily been at least an hour and half long.
Regardless of the shorter than expected set, Royal Blood’s grand return to the stage, as well as the satisfying new album, was definitely worth the near two-and-a-half year wait.