When Brighton drums-and-bass rock duo Royal Blood were named on the BBC’s Sound of 2014 list at the start of the year, they stuck out like a sore thumb among fashionable singer-songwriters and moodily chic, electronic knob-twiddlers. However, while some of the names on that list have barely been heard of since, the young rockers’ debut has become the fastest-selling British rock album of the past three years.
There’s nothing about the young Royals’ bluesy hard rock that won’t be familiar to fans of Queens of the Stone Age and the White Stripes, and Jack White’s band and the Black Keys have long mined the rocking duo format. However, Royal Blood singer Mike Kerr’s bass has been subjected to secret sonic trickery to sound like a guitar, as well as a bass when he needs it. Therein lies a masterstroke: to play huge, hard, riff-driven but groovy rock within a modern, pared-down format. With every note used to maximum precision and fat stripped from everything, from the length of set (55 minutes) to the absence of the encore ritual, the pair are channelling the spirit of old gas-guzzling rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Cream but without the excess.
There is no “show” in the form of flying bats or rubber dragons, although there’s a certain frisson the way the neatly trimmed pair stand close enough to make eye contact in order to concentrate very hard to make two people sound like many more. However, they’re not averse to their predecessors’ stadium-pleasing antics. Kerr raises his arms and his colleague stands, waving, on his drum stool, although they do comically subvert one hoary old tradition when the frontman asks people to “put hands together for the rest of the band … and their name is Ben Thatcher!”
Throw in songs of the calibre of Careless and Little Monster and the effect is to thrill an audience that could have been forgiven for wondering if they’d ever again have such fun at a new rock band’s gig. The mosh pit stretches halfway down the venue; clothes and shoes fly through the air and the crowd even “sing” the riff to the swaggering Figure It Out. By the end, with the drummer in the audience and Kerr gazing over proceedings like a general surveying a famous victory, it’s hard to argue with his conclusion that “Manchester, this is what it’s all about.”
• At O2 Academy, Liverpool, 3 November. Box office: 0151-707 3200. Then touring until 14 March.