Band of Skulls

O2 Academy Brixton, London on Friday 7 December 2012

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Having seen Band of Skulls supporting the Black Keys as well as at Reading earlier this year, I was pretty excited to be treated to an entire gig after two teasers. They have been described as a fusion of White Stripes / The Dead Weather with influence from The Kills and The Black Keys, and hailing from Southampton the three-piece have widespread appeal. Vintage rock, emotive melodies and feet-shuffling beats explain the cross-demographic success spanning moshing rockers to a younger indie crowd; a result of all three band members contributing to song writing.

The evening kicked off with a gutsy deliverance of 'Sweet Sour'. Powerful, pounding drums courtesy of Matt Hayward, and the Moorish riff intro served as a great warm up for a chilly Brixton Academy. With sultry harmonies from guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson, the crowd were singing along from the very start. 'Bruises' followed after a quick hello from Russell, and proceeded to evoke an even warmer reception with meaty strums sledge-hammering into anthem-esque choruses. Due to some initial technical hitches Emma's vocals began on the quiet side, however I thought the warm-up tracks were well chosen and engaged the audience immediately.

There were only a couple of down-tempo songs in the entire set, both of which seemed like a well - positioned oasis between a run of meaty rock. 'Navigate' was packed with sweet, soft harmonies floating over gentle strumming and a more restrained drumming. Tougher, gnarly tracks such as 'Patterns' and 'Blood' sat either side, both of which boasted electrifying riffs and bludgeoning baselines; the great thing about Band of Skulls is their ability to lace such songs with vocals so haunting they lift the entire track atmosphere.

'Hollywood Bowl' which was extremely well received and recognised, featuring only on the vinyl version of the first album - an indication of fan loyalty. The track was sleazier in sound, consisting of generous lashings of vintage rock and big fuzzy guitar strums, with much crowd participation in the chorus. At this point Russell really seemed to let go, becoming more animated in his solo off-shoot. I even caught Emma smiling away in amusement, as she teased the crowd with her extended baseline hooks.

The crowd decided to mirror Russell's energetic outburst with a mosh-pit reaction to 'You're Not Pretty But You Got It Going On'. Matt looked like the devil possessed as he tore up his kit with furious battering, beating away to moody vocals and grizzly riff-laden power chords. The track raised the pace by several notches and fired up the crowd, continuing on a high for 'Light of the Morning' which sprang into action after Russell kept the audience hanging with an elaborated guitar teaser.

'Death By Diamonds and Pearls' allowed the front rows to continue their frenzied moshing, instantly hyping with its electrified intro followed by vocals laden with attitude. Each verse built to a crescendo of big chorus lines, which had heads banging and hands in the air right up until the trio disappeared off stage. The encore return began with 'Devil Takes Care of His Own'. Despite the fact Russell had a fresh guitar brought out for pretty much every track and Matt had bashed through a vast number of drum sticks by this point, they’d managed to reserve enough energy for a gritty deliverance of bluesy rock snarling with chords fierce enough to keep the audience hooked until the end. Ending with 'Impossible', the band instilled a calmer and more uplifting note that I initially thought was intended to wind the crowd down. This was before Matt changed sticks again for one last blast of outstanding percussion, as the trio shook the roof with a closing extended instrumental.

The tight chemistry between the three was very apparent throughout the night. Russell and Emma communicated quickly and efficiently with each other and Matt, with Emma happy to let Russell assume front man status covering the stage with several belting guitar solos. All three musicians played to each other as much as they did the audience.

The whole set was relatively lengthy, consisting of 16 songs in total. Aside from a few words of appreciation from Russell, there was no chat meaning more time for tracks. Grungey and kitsch in appearance, Russell was in black skinnies, classic DM's and a black shirt, and Emma in a dark tunic over-coat with sleeves rolled up and tan ankle boots. While the pair seemed shy in demeanour, Matt exuded a different type of energy and was everything you want out of a drummer; mischievous, hearty, and full of thunder. His long hair was dripping with sweat by the end of the night, a result of much precision drumming and totally hammering the hell out of his time keeping. We were lucky enough to catch a drumstick and can safely say it had seen better days!

While overall conviction of performance and stage presence wasn't jaw-dropping, Band of Skulls still left me hugely satisfied having played every track that I like from both albums extremely well. Part of a band's appeal to me apart from what they sound like is how they come across live – their character, the little things that set them apart. I guess some bands are just more reserved and understated, and because I am a fan of their music this didn't ruin it for me – but then it didn't exactly blow me away either. What they do they do extremely well, and although they seem to have nailed a fail-safe formula and are consistent in delivery, the gig did leave me wondering what they will be pulling out the bag for the third album in order to keep fans tuned in.

Track Listing:

Sweet Sour
Bruises
Patterns
Fires
Wonderluster
Navigate
Bomb
Blood
Cold Frame
Hollywood Bowl
I Know What I Am
You're Not Pretty But You Got It Going On
Light of the Morning
Death by Diamonds and Pearls
Devil Takes Care of His Own
Impossible

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article by: Carrie Tang

published: 11/12/2012 12:46