Big Dogs is a home away from home for those who like to rock. With the amount of time some spent at this venue when the rock music scene was thriving in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area, that’s what it became. Called Big Dogs, then 3rd St. Live for a while, the business has been closed for about 10 years, and it’s now used primarily as a rental space for weddings and other events. Back in its day as a concert venue, an infinite amount of rock bands graced the stage including Testament, Great White, Gwar, Warrant, Disturbed, Clutch, Fear Factory, Sepultura, Disturbed, Sevendust and Danzig.
On Friday November 2, 2012, those who loved the venue in its musical heydays organized a reunion-type show. Five opening acts played, primarily local bands. On tour to promote their newest album Waiting Out the Storm, Royal Bliss was chosen to headline because as event coordinator Jennifer Taylor enthusiastically explained, “Royal Bliss is the perfect band to headline this show, they are a little rock, little metal and a lot of soul. I have not met anyone who has seen them perform live and NOT fell in love with them.”
The crowd was packed to the front of the stage while the opening bands each played their sets. With all the ‘horn’ hand gestures being thrown, and most everyone jumping around, if a mosh pit broke out it would have come as no surprise. Guitar riffs roared from the openers, exciting the crowd, charging them up like a live wire for the finale.
At about 11 pm the lights went out and the crowd screamed while raising their beers in a toast, as Royal Bliss front-man Neal Middleton, said from the dark, “Are you ready for a rock show? Let’s do this motherfucker!” Drummer Jake Smith came on stage first for a drum solo followed by bassist Dwayne Crawford and guitarist Taylor Richards, who both came on stage next. Then Middleton, dressed in a Foreigner 1978 world tour t-shirt and jeans, appeared and screamed into the microphone to start the song Here They Come from their 2009 release, Life In-Between .
The energy was electric both on and offstage as not only did Middleton constantly move around jumping on and off platforms, but Crawford bounced around as well, performing several midair scissor kicks. Middleton’s vocals were consistently powerful throughout the evening. The vast majority of people in the crowd appeared to know the words to every Royal Bliss song, and they screamed after each one, often chanting “Royal Bliss, Royal Bliss.”
I Got This, the first single release from Waiting Out the Storm, started with Middleton singing a long, drawn-out “Yea” scream, expressing his forceful voice. Middleton broke into a cover of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage, and the crowd howled in excitement. His vocals were spot-on; perfectly suited to pull off such a well-known robust song. Middleton seamlessly transitioned With a Smile’s cryptic slow beginning into impressive screaming vocals, backed by fierce drums and guitar riffs from Smith and Richards. Before the band played Crazy, the second single release from the latest album, Middleton explained that the song lyrics were about missing his wife and two boys back at home.
After singing I Was Drunk, from Life In-Between, the lights went down as the band exited the stage, giving the impression the show was over but the crowd keeps shouting “Royal Bliss” to inspire the traditional encore performance.
Royal Bliss came back on stage, performing Will You Wait For Me from their 2006 album After the Chaos II, and a cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, which may have been the one miss. The crowd seemed a bit more subdued during this song, possibly because with rock fans Cash is a hit or miss favorite. They finished the set with an acoustic version of Fine Wine, explaining most have probably not heard it as it is an unreleased song from the early Royal Bliss days.
Royal Bliss played a full set and then some, which seems rare when a venue hires several opening acts; more commonly the headliner scales it down to a miniaturized set, but instead Royal Bliss did not disappoint, performing their biggest hits, several songs from three of their albums and a selection of covers they pulled off remarkably well. Royal Bliss represented everything a live band should be: passionate, energetic, fun and talented.