July 31, 2011

A Royal Return of the Rock Show

U.S. Royalty
The Washington Post Express described U.S. Royalty's music as “Zeppelin riffs, Stones swagger, and Fleetwood Mac pop.”  With hype like that, I decided to purposely check out U.S. Royalty at DC’s 9:30 Club without ever having seen or heard a note….

Unlike 98 percent of the bands that pass through 9:30 Club – or even most American rock bands, in general, post-1991 – U.S. Royalty seem to remember the importance of the Rock Show.  Where indie rock celebrates the “We’re just like our audience, only we play instruments, man” ethos, U.S. Royalty harken back to a time when there was a clear distinction between performer and audience...and perform, they did.  For the uninitiated, their live image is a combination of The Faces, The Black Crowes, and The Strokes, with maybe a tip of the hat to vintage Guns & Roses.  Their live sound seems to incorporate all of the above bands and gives a few nods along the way to U2, the Killers, and lesser known ‘80s British pop bands like The Church.

              ("Hollywood Hollows")
Having since gone back and listened to their studio recordings, it’s obvious that U.S. Royalty are one of those rare bands who are actually better live.  In fact, they are almost a bit schizophrenic, as they go from super-polished in the studio to a preening, rollicking rock band onstage.  The band’s studio version of “Monte Carlo,” which is very reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” is transformed live, as it sounds like it was shot out of a cannon from 1970s Laurel Canyon into the pop-rock-you-wish-there-were-more-of stratosphere with the addition of rapper Phil Ade.  Judging from his onstage exuberance and the audience’s reaction, Ade came dangerously close to stealing an already great show. 

        ("Monte Carlo" - Before)

                                                                     ("Monte Carlo" - After)
The Express’ comparison of U.S. Royalty to Zeppelin, the Stones, or Fleetwood Mac is a lowest-common denominator review.  In fact, I hear no Zeppelin connection – live or in the studio.  As for the Stones, again, in the studio, I hear no resemblance, although live, they do share a ‘70s-era swaggering fashion sense, complete with glitter shirts, fur stoles, leather fringe, skinny jeans, and lizard boots.  Certainly, there is a strong Fleetwood Mac undertone in the band’s studio work, but onstage, U.S. Royalty take on a unique life of their own – even as they cover Stevie Nicks' "Wild Heart."  

Perhaps the best gauge of success for a band is whether they can win over a live audience.  The 9:30 Club crowd was about 50 percent girls who were probably there on the basis of hearing “Equestrian” on American Eagle commercials.  As for the guys, it was a vast sea of pastel dress shirts (most probably worn to work earlier in the day), khaki shorts, and flip-flops.  I’m assuming they came to the show because the chicks they’re diggin’ wanted to go.  When the band first took the stage, there was a noticeable look en masse of surprise, amusement, horror, and “what kind of band is this, anyway?”  However, in very short order, U.S. Royalty turned the seemingly Jack Johnson/Dave Matthews-friendly audience into fans of the Rock Show.  

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