March of the R.A.T.S.: Ryan Santiago, aka Royal, has been teetering on the brink of bigness for a couple of years now, but it feels like the momentum is with her. The tides are moving in her direction, as everything about this Royal and the Serpent show at the Troubadour screamed “catch this band at a venue of this size now while you still can!”
The evening was a celebration, from top to bottom. A celebration of strong, immensely talented women. Of togetherness in the face of multiple awful world events. Of self-confidence, of love, and of joy. As hokey as all of that might sound the next day, it made total sense on the night. Royal and the Serpent coated it all with caustic cool and made believers out of us.
It helped that both opening acts were magnificent too. First up was Buzz, proud to be performing a hometown show on this stacked bill and not about to waste the opportunity. There are elements of Kate Bush, with her operatic, theatrical performance. Bits of Bjork and Tori Amos too, but with a very contemporary edge. Mind you, she scored extra points for her use of a keytar.
The best thing we can say about Paris Jackson is that, for the entirety of her set, we didn’t think about her family connections at all. Honestly, we forgot about it. That is to say, we judged her entirely on her own merits, and that proved to be hugely beneficial, because she was superb. Pulling songs from her recent The Lost EP and 2020’s Wilted album, alt-pop artist Jackson and her kick-ass band captivated the Troubadour crowd.
Still, nobody was stealing this night away from Royal and the Serpent. From the opening notes of the first song, when the band came on playing on the R.A.T.S initials theme wearing rat masks, Royal was clearly on it. She covered every inch of the stage in the first 30 seconds, spinning and grinning, wide-eyed and manic. And we were all in!
There were special guests, including local artist Phem for a fun through their collab “Girls.” Last year’s Searching for Nirvana album was well-represented, as it should be because it’s awesome. So we got “I Can’t Get High” and a rare airing of “Fuck You.” And at the end we got breakthrough track “Overwhelmed,” complete with a dance routine with the band. The material from recent EPs If I Died Would Anyone Care and Happiness is an Inside Job go don a treat too, particularly a thrilling “I’m Fine.”
Throughout it all, Royal looked to be having the time of her life, switching from demanding that we promise not to drink and drive, to nervous ticks, in a blink. She’s a glorious performer, brimming with star power. Her lyrics are eminently human — one minute she’s open and vulnerable, the next she’s angry and fighting. The music is part alt-pop, part punk, but to its immense credit its doesn’t sound like anyone else. Royal doesn’t remind us of anyone else. How often does that happen nowadays?
By the end we exited the Troubadour knowing that we just witnessed a star.
March of the R.A.T.S.
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