Royal & the Serpent takes you to Heaven and Hell

Posted on: October 24, 2023
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Ryan Santiago, better known by the moniker Royal & the Serpent, brought her first headlining tour to Empire Control Room on Wednesday, October 18.

Her (partially) Catholic upbringing was evident throughout her show, from the ethereal white gown she donned on stage to the set being broken into two parts: Heaven and Hell.

The experience begins in Heaven, where a disembodied mechanical voice tells you to “leave your bullshit at the door.” The band, clad in black, enters the stage before Royal joins them. They are accompanied by a neon sign that reads “NEVER GIVE UP.”

“Welcome to Heaven baby, where you can be whoever you want.”

The music betrays what you would expect from the crowd. I was actually shocked when I showed up. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s mid-late October or if she really does just highly appeal to goths. For the most part, Royal’s sound is much more pop-punk than post-punk. The lyrics are universal through all genres, singing of depression and boys and vices.

Heaven comprises 8 songs and a poem, as well as a vastly different yet extremely similar Pledge of Allegiance. Throughout the set, various audience members proclaim their love for Royal, with her always acknowledging and responding “I love you more.”

As she begins reciting the poem, the other three band members leave the stage. Then suddenly, once the recital ends, Royal drops like a rock. While she’s down, we are transported to Hell. Red lights flash, klaxons sound, and the mechanical voice is now awash with error messages. As the band re-enters the stage, Royal emerges from the depths and is now covered in blood.

The Hell section is longer, clocking in at 11 songs. Oh, and a birthday tribute to Ethan. I’m not sure how they’re associated, but he’s in a band called West River, an indie project from South Dakota. For the birthday tribute and after, the band was joined onstage by members of another band called Beauty School Dropout, who then proceeded to collaborate on a cover of Juice Wrld’s “Lucid Dreams” (which was excellent), followed by Slush Puppy’s “Eat Spit.”

(Sorry – there were just too many good ones to choose from here.)

The set ended with Royal’s most popular song, which she said changed her life, “Overwhelmed,” the live version of which is much more upbeat and frenzied than the album track.

Overall, this show was excellent. It was in an appropriate venue for the size of the crowd, but she deserves a much bigger draw. I hope the next time she rolls through town, she’ll be able to play a bigger venue.

Oh, and just a couple of observations: the bassist looks like a girl I went to school with and you cannot convince me that the guitar player isn’t Marco from Degrassi (I don’t mean the actor that played Marco, I mean the literal character).

And once again, HUGE thank you to the wonderful Ima Leupp for lending her talents and shooting this show. I can’t wait to do it again with you!

(All photos by @imashoots/Ima Leupp)