- Article by: Jamie McCormick
- Posted: 08/09/2011
Sunday night at Exit/In, the arguable king of Nashville's small venues, Music City's intrepid end-of-the-weekend crowd experienced a royal rockfest of unparalleled proportions. Openers Royal Bliss and headliners Redlight King, backed by 102.9 The Buzz, slammed then jammed, ending the weekend right and sending a small but pumped crowd back to work happy.
Salt Lake City's Royal Bliss fit an unusual niche – they're hard rockers with the slamming weight of a metal band and the melodic sensibilities of pop rock. Mixing heavy, pounding bass and aggressive power chords with powerful, soulful vocals that hold their tone and lyrics you can actually understand, they really do create bliss that makes your head bang. It's AC/DC meet Nine Inch Nails.
With more hair than a Labrador-owner's couch but none of the pretty boy pretensions of the ‘80s, Royal Bliss set about unleashing the demons earned from their long and occasionally tragic story. Through the jeans on front man Neal Middleton's right leg, you could still see the bandages from a near-fatal car crash that left him in a wheelchair for months. But such a trifling injury didn't stop him from stomping around and making himself heard.
From the edge of the stage to the back of the balcony, Middleton's metal wail held the room, exhibiting the tone of Daughtry with a cold (though slightly scratchier) and the range of Freddie Mercury. Neither overpowering nor unintelligible, the vocals blended perfectly with the raging rock behind them.
As a last hoorah, guitarist Taylor Richards, who had been tearing up riff after riff, looked like a well-fed and confident lion brandishing his mane just for the sake of his pride mates when he slid up and down the neck of his guitar with his empty Newcastle bottle – because, why not? Meanwhile, Middleton conducted an invisible orchestra from center stage while his band played themselves out with graceful force. A new fan's final verdict: “They're winning Rock Band right now – on the advanced level.”
Once Redlight King took the stage, the hard-slamming assault turned into a classic sounding groove, as yet another niche style pervaded the room. A hip-hop bump supported by a sturdy rock backbone formed the body of the set, as vocalist Kaz set the pace and timbre. Though his vocals were a bit too low and sometimes hard to hear, the visible emotion on his face and the cry in his voice demanded that you strain your ears to listen.
Pseudo-rapping with the poetic timing of Treach and an old school hip-hop focus on melody, Kaz showcased a compelling and unique style of rock that rolled off his tongue, swirling around a bass line with ADD and guitar riffs à la classic rock. Playful drumming in the back kept the small but captivated crowd bobbing along with the waves as the lyrics told a story of fighting hard to tread rough water.
A white Detroit rapper with a shaved head, Kaz had a healthy, hearty, sincere look on stage that stands in contrast to the stark haggardness Eminem sometimes exhibits, and his genuine-looking bandmates completed the package. They make honest rock, and they perform it honestly as well.
The breakout track “Old Man” off their new record Something for the Pain (Hollywood Records, 2011) samples a Neil Young classic, retaining plenty of the original vibe and sound while changing just enough to make it fresh. Unlike much of the sampling that occurs anymore, Redlight King don’t disrespect the treasures they sample – after all, who cuts up a juicy filet mignon to make tacos? The live version was hauntingly beautiful.
These two complementary sets created balance and crossed genres and made for a satisfying night of rock, and the sounds lingered in the air long after the last chord died out. But the knockout show will live on, to be repeated in several other cities as the two bands continue their tour together. I can only hope those lucky cities know what's coming their way, and wish that more music lovers in Nashville had gotten their socks blown off. At least a few of us headed back to the office barefoot.
To see more of Jamie's photography, or to inquire about booking, visit www.seriesofstills.com.
"Old Man" - Redlight King