Royal Headache is the name of the band and quite an appropriate name it seems. Their current tour itself happens to have been something of a headache for these Aussie punk upstarts. Their LA show had already been rescheduled once due to the band not being issued visas in time for the original date. On top of that, there was a very late switch from the show’s original venue in Silverlake to Vernon and the inauspicious surroundings of a completely abandoned industrial area. Believe me, this is a city that truly sleeps at night. Aside from a solitary security guard just down the road, the only people around for several blocks were those at the Blue Star Cafe for the show.
This was the kind of wonderfully incongruous venue I am getting used to in Los Angeles. A neon-sign posted diner by day, it uses its small courtyard in the evening for the kind of do-it-yourself shows you generally see advertised on handout flyers at other gigs. For Royal Headache, this seemed particularly fitting. There is a ramshackle, almost thrown together quality to their short, sharp debut album (it flies through 12 songs in 26 minutes), which feels endearing rather than lazy. They are a band that rides on the wave of spontaneity, and struggling through sound issues for a delayed midnight start with a stand-in bassist looked like it was par for the course for these guys.
The show itself was exactly as expected: a setlist seemingly decided on the fly, a dozen or so uplifting and supremely danceable soul punk tunes. An energetic crowd bounced along to the whole thing in a venue where there was less chance of someone climbing onto the stage than falling onto it from one of several surges. The band opened with the catchy-as-hell “Really In Love” and finished with “Distant and Vague,” which sounds for all the world like a song the Beatles forgot to record in their formative years.
For all their off-the-cuff punk aesthetic, Royal Headache boasts two things that set them apart from their peers. The first is a sophistication and great ear for melody in their best songs, which vary from the straight-up punk of “Psychotic Episode” to a more rockabilly sound in their relatively gentler moments. The second is Shogun, the unlikely frontman with a nice line in self-deprecating humor (he described “Honey Joy” as a “ridiculously embarrassing song” at one point) and whose explosive, soulful voice would not sound out of place on an old Motown record. That voice is perhaps buried too deep in the mix on record, but it stands out proud and clear live.
The whole thing was done in just over half an hour. As Shogun said, an encore was not only pointless but near impossible as “the band don’t know any more songs.” A forthcoming run of shows opening for the Black Keys back in their homeland will introduce them to a wider audience, and for better or worse they might not be playing shows to just over a hundred people next time they are in Los Angeles. On this evidence, there is still a rawness to their approach that could do with some work, but hopefully not so much as to drown out what makes them so appealing at the moment. These boys have promise and are well worth keeping an eye on.
For more info: