Royal Trux have always been a band that use a lack of image as the one solid reference point for what they do. Since the late ’80s the noise rock filth merchants have experimented with seemingly every style imaginable, to the point where the only continuous thread throughout their body of work is the lack of one. Tonight is no different for the erstwhile avant-garde legends – having reformed a few years ago after a decade or so in the wilderness, the duo have been periodically touring ever since. A few dates into a tour that marks Royal Trux’s first trip to the UK in almost two decades – they last played Brighton in 1999 – their date with the audience of The Haunt is an impressive and utterly idiosyncratic one.
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With a new album due out later this month – one just as uncompromising as all the others, keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming review – it’s clear within minutes of tonight’s performance that the group have lost none of their edge. Aided by two touring members, tonight’s show is a short but sweet explosion of heroin drenched noise rock – though the band may be clean now, the drugged-out insanity that informed their early work remains clearly intact tonight. The band’s core duo of Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty remain as striking a presence as ever; Herrema may be a world away from a traditional frontwoman – draped as she is in a curtain of wild hair, a Royal Trux hoodie thrown around her shoulders – but she’s nothing if not captivating. Hagerty likewise cuts a striking figure; stridently assaulting his guitar with an almost shocking amount of physicality, his presence tonight is as murkily provocative as the blistering guitar tone he employs.
For long term fans – and the crowd is clearly mostly made up of them, if the enthusiastic reception is anything to go by – tonight’s show is no great revelation. Royal Trux continue to mine the same vein now as they did during their initial run; strung-out garage rock is the order of the day. Their sound is, and always has been, a dizzying miasma of furious scuzz-punk, fucked-up avant-garde mind invasion and dissonant outsider vibes. For those who can stomach it, it’s a potent and uncompromisingly enticing mixture. Vocals from both Hagerty and Herrema frequently teeter on the verge of the amusical, the razor-sharp blast of noise from Hagerty’s guitar likewise only just staying on the right side of the unmelodious. It’s certainly not a sound for all but rock music has always needed it’s outsiders and it’s great to see the duo are as vividly individualistic now as they’ve ever been.
It’s a set that from the off is well recieved, and for good reason. Performances aren’t tight per se – a sense of loose musicality has always been key to the band’s charms – but they are at least well rehearsed. If there’s one major strike against the band tonight, then it’s in the shockingly short set. They depart from the stage after only 45 minutes and despite numerous begging calls for more, an encore is not forthcoming. Given that the band’s record output spans numerous albums, it’s disheartening to see such a great evening cut so short. For a band as long running as Royal Trux, it doesn’t seem too much to expect comfortably over an hour at the very least; still, if the brevity of the set is the only criticism to be levelled at them then it’s the mark of a great live act.
At one point Hagerty throws the audience the finger midway through a particularly vicious riff – it’s not a sign of aggression, rather a humorous mark of irreverence and – in a strange way – it’s representative of the band’s ethos. Royal Trux are a group who have long flirted with danger; be it their well documented drug use, the raw intensity of the music or the utterly unique way they present themselves to the public, they’re a group who have long stood for a defiant, even confrontational, sense of individualism. It’s heartening, though not – it must be said – unsurprising to report that Royal Trux are every bit as true to themselves now as they’ve ever been. They’re not for everyone but they never have been. They probably don’t give a shit if you like them or not. They’re a band that have always given off the distinct impression that they make music for themselves and themselves alone – and that’s deeply admirable. It’s good to see Royal Trux back in action.