ACL Fest 2017: Royal Blood packs power, but lacks creative punch

There were issues almost from the start of English blues rock duo Royal Blood’s set Friday at the Barton Springs stage. A pair of equipment malfunctions – one after the opening song, another roughly halfway through the 60-minute performance- with lead singer/bassist Mike Kerr’s gear stalled momentum at key points.

The crowd of several thousand gathered in front of Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher didn’t let the setbacks dampen their enthusiasm for the pair’s rumbling and energetic take on blues metal, with the fuzz-drenched patterns of “Come On Over” and the quite breaks in “Little Monster” making the top-volume choruses hit even harder.

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 6, 2017 – Royal Blood lead vocalist and guitarist Mike Kerr performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.(Erich Schlegel/Special Contributor)

But there are some inherent drawbacks to the pair’s approach to blues metal. Younger acts in recent years have certainly had success in mining the marriage of blues rock and heavy metal, with Wolfmother and Reignwolf being two recent examples.

Both of those acts had uber-charismatic front men with distinct vocal delivery and stunning guitar work to add intricacy and finesse to the mix.

Royal Blood falls short on both accounts. Kerr is a passable but not distinctive singer and sticking to a effects-laden bass guitar – his pedal board does such heavy lifting it should get credit as a third member – for most of the set limits the band’s musical dexterity pretty seriously.

Because the bass guitar is a rhythm-first instrument, Royal Blood’s musical range was limited to textures and patterns that were drawn from blues theory but the instrument is a hindrance when it’s used for tone and color in place of a standard six-string electric. That meant blunt force and volume were the band’s best weapons, and they won over a large part of the fist-pumping crowd.

But one wonders how much further they could develop if they broadened their horizons to employ more than just pounding and rumble.