Review: Ian Leach celebrates the new Swansea Arena with Royal Blood, sweat and beers
Like many Swansea residents, I have witnessed the long and tedious construction of The Copr Bay Project. For over two years, the city has been subjected to ear-busting construction work and hideous views of a soulless building site. £135 million has gone into the project, with £48 million dedicated to the arena. It has cost a lot of money and inconvenience, but finally, finally, it is finished, and I could not be happier.
For the opening event, the arena managed to secure the Worthing heavyweight rock-duo Royal Blood. A fine choice. Mike Kerr (vocals, bass) and Ben Thatcher (drums) are perhaps the best two individuals to break in a new sound system. Thatcher’s crisp, powerhouse drumming, and Kerr’s wild thrashing of a fuzzed and multi-layered bass was sure to test out the capabilities of the new arena.
19 March, 2022, I arrived late with excitement in my veins, hoping to avoid the queues and squeeze in more time at the pub (much cheaper). As I walked the new metallic bridge towards the arena, I was struck by the horrific realisation that the rest of Swansea had the same idea. The queue was massive- snaking its way from the front doors, back on itself, and as far back as the bridge I had just stepped upon. It is worth saying, however, of all the queues I have had to wait in, this was certainly the best. It is hard not to stand in awe at the truly sublime LED skin that coats the building. Over 90,000 lights towered above me blending from blue to purple, and ROYAL BLOOD in giant letters nestled into the glittering surface.
The queue moved surprisingly fast, and I was in in no time. The multi-levelled foyer and bar area was an architectural marvel, though inadvertently made me feel far too underdressed for the event. I thought I was coming to a rock concert, not a black-tie event. The public had made an effort to scrub up well – some even decided to wear delicate high heels. High heels at a rock concert, are you insane? Yes, such attire may be suitable for the marvellous foyer, but a damn rock concert?
First point of order, get to the bar. It was with further dismay to discover the bars of the main two levels were overflowing with bodies and getting a drink before the gig started seemed an impossibility. Being the sneaky devil that I am, however, I retreated to the top level to find a bar that had around a quarter of the population downstairs. It was only once I had reached the bar that I realised I had shot myself in the foot. They only had Magners left on draft. With a face of repugnance, I reluctantly accepted and headed to the stage.
Unlike most arenas, and in stark contrast to the outside of the building, it is distinctly rectangular inside. Even the walls either side of the stage are coated in red cuboids cascading from the ceiling, like some sort of geometric bloody massacre. Around 15ft above the main dance floor, the seating area — another square section placed directly behind the area below. This gave the impression of two divided audiences, rather than one collective mass. It was almost as if there was a live studio audience constantly watching you.
Down below, I squeezed my way through tightly packed, sweaty bodies until I was centre stage and adequately close to the front. The lights went low, and the crowd started to vibrate with anticipation. Royal Blood appeared with their first song, Typhoons. Then, whipping the audience into a frenzy, they pushed the sound system to the utmost of its capabilities, leaving their fans well and truly blown away. The thunderous bass shook the foundations of the building itself — along with my insides – and christened the subwoofers with the heavenly choir of rock and roll. Behind the band, a monstrous screen projected images of the rock-duo as they dominated the stage. Pillars of coloured lights surrounded them as if they were ascending this world.
The gig was a blast, with Royal Blood ripping through banger after banger, a hybrid of all three albums. They even introduced us to their latest release, Honeybrains, which went down a treat. Midway through the show, Kerr addressed the crowd:
‘I know this place is brand spanking new, but we need to wear it in a bit. We need make it a bit dirty.’
Then teared into the filthy descending bassline of Come On Over. The mosh pits were relentless, like being in a whirlpool of sweat and beer. I loved every second.
Unfortunately, shortly after, I realised that the cursed Magners had gone straight through my bladder. Perhaps my body had detected poison and wanted to rid of it as quickly as possible. Reluctantly, I weaved my way back through the crowd.
Thankfully, the foyer was now abandoned – and the bar had lager! £5 for a pint may sound a bit disturbed, but for an arena, I was ecstatic. It gets better – a pot of chips for only £2! I am used to having to pay at least £10 for six Pringles or two spoonfuls of ice-cream at most venues, so to me, this was a steal. It was, well… as cheap as chips. Okay – they were also stone-cold, but what did I expect? It was late in the evening, and I doubt they expected someone to want to chow down on hot food whilst stood in a mass of jostling bodies. Frankly, they were delicious anyway. Although, admittedly, it was a bit of a task to juggle a full pint and a pot of chips, but I managed it none the less.
With their final song before the encore, Figure It Out, the band left the audience to try and figure out what the hell we just witnessed with only one consensus: we want more. They left us in limbo for a little while, but out of the black, they returned to a fully charged audience. With their extended and souped-up rendition of their first-album-anthem, Out of the Black, Kerr and Thatcher pummelled what was left of their instruments and the crowd into a pulp.
They left the stage to a continuous ovation, knowing full well that their work here was done. They had pushed the arena to its very limits. It managed to withstand the storm. The money and time spent on this project was worth every penny, and every second. Technology has been utilised to its highest potential, creating a truly immersive experience. Mixed with the stunning architecture, Swansea Arena provides a venue for a whole host of different events. Following Royal Blood’s performance, we now know without a doubt, the arena can handle whatever is thrown at it.
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