All photos by Erin McCann
Broken Records may have been the headliners at Black Cat’s show last Sunday night, but DC locals US Royalty stole the show. Having recently sold out a show at the Rock and Roll Hotel, and launching a national tour in support of their self-released debut album Mirrors, US Royalty had no problem filling up the tiny Backstage. US Royalty channeled this rock ‘n roll energy straight from the 70s – bombastic and fearless. Despite their relative lack of experience, they came off as true rock stars.
Broken Records, with their melancholy, indie-folk style, couldn’t live up to the energy of the preceding set. They occasionally hit their stride, with the entire group working together to create something large and beautiful – but after US Royalty’s set, I just wasn’t excited by most of their songs. They sounded like a band still trying to figure things out, rather than a band with two full-length albums behind them – and a band once praised as the Scottish Arcade Fire.
Anyway, US Royalty! This made me proud to be a DC resident, to know that we can crank out a solid rock band. Their style is full-on 70s rock, with crooning vocals and fuzzy guitars. The set started off with some of their most energetic songs – I totally loved that guitar solo in “The Desert Won’t Save You”. Their frontman John Thornley bounced around the stage, swinging his guitar as he unleashed riffage. His energy was infectious.
Towards the end, they switched to more mellow territory. Their cover of Stevie Nick’s “Wild Heart” was pretty solid – I’m sure they picked it to add some time to their set, but also to showcase their musical talent. John’s vocal skills really shone, and the harmonies during the chorus sounded pitch-perfect. Their other mellow songs didn’t really do it for me, but they won me back with their final song, “Equestrian”, which was practically begging the audience to sing along.
The crowd thinned out before Broken Records took the stage. Six well-dressed Scotsmen stepped up to their bevy of instruments – trumpet, violin, piano, and dozens of effects pedals. I’m still trying to figure out how they got paired with US Royalty, who stick to the traditional rock lineup of bass, drums, and guitar. Maybe it’s because both bands include sets of siblings? Beats me.
“This was our attempt to write a pop song,” he announced before launching into “A Darkness Rises Up”, one of their more upbeat numbers. I had a tough time figuring out their frontman, Jamie Sutherland. I wasn’t sure what to make of his self-deprecating humor and seeming nonchalance; it stood in sharp contrast to US Royalty’s set. His meek attitude matched many of the songs through the night that didn’t quite grab my attention; most songs that night were fine and the band played them well, but were missing something.
With that in mind, I spent my time at the show thinking about what Broken Records actually did well. Jamie seemed to prefer the slower, melancholy tracks, but upbeat numbers like “Modern Worksong” grabbed my attention. One guy at the show was practically begging them to play loud songs.* On the other hand, my favorite moment of the night was their stripped-down version of “Home”, featuring just Jamie on guitar and his brother fiddling with electronics. The bare instrumentation let his vocal skills shine. Broken Records are good with shifting dynamics, allowing one or another part to stand out, but this particular moment was especially powerful because I had been hearing strings in the background (or foreground) all night – its absence made me pay more attention than anything else.
This was Broken Records’ first date on their first US tour. I hope they hit their stride, but I don’t see Jamie turning into a charismatic rock star overnight. Mostly, I want the band to write more songs that have that “it” factor, that really grab your attention. They have a few songs like this, but I feel like they spent most of their set languishing with songs that weren’t quite there.
* I did this too, but only in my head.