Band of Skulls
The Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton
By Glenn Rossington
So I was unlucky enough to get into the Band of Skulls at the end of their last campaign for debut record ‘Baby, Darling, Doll Face, Honey’, after all of the festival dates and subsequent promotional tour dates. Fast forward to the release of the new record ‘Sweet Sour’ and already they are launching the UK promotion by supporting The Black Keys across the country. One of the ‘bands of the moment’ having a brilliant comeback band as their opener was only going to heighten the anxiety for their own run of dates. Brilliant marketing! So tonight we are in a packed out Wulfrun Hall which is rather hot and sweaty, and the doors have only just opened! The support act tonight are the rather tight and bluesy ‘Broken Hands’ who seem to encapsulate the audience’s mind and by the end of the set have won over most of them.
The stage is cleared and rather quickly it seems the ‘one… two…’ of the final mic checks are done, the torch from the side of the stage is flashed and the lights drop. Cue the regulatory rush of anticipation from the massed crowd and cheers of delight as they finally walk out greeting the baying crowd. They open up the show with the rather slick title track from the new record and already it sounds like an old firm favourite. Lyrics being sang back at them from the front rows with the added bonus of pointy fingers thrown into the mix. Completing the couplet of newbies opening the show, the majestic ‘Lies’ is up next and gets a similar reaction.
I guess the first criticism of the night is the fact that the setlist is heavily reflective of the debut album and only a handful of tracks from the new album are aired tonight. It is fair to suggest that the band are not quite comfortable with their seemingly new found ‘fandom’. A few months ago they were putting the finishing touches to ‘Sweet Sour’ and had been away from the live music scene for just over three years. Suddenly they are playing support slots in stadiums and have sold a very good amount of tickets for their UK tour.
However, it is the older tracks tonight that gain the most reactions from the crowd. following the opening couplet of new tracks, we get a succession of older tracks. ‘Patterns’ and ‘Fires’ arrive in succession and entice the crowd to get a bit livelier… a small ‘moshpit’ appears amongst the centre of the front rows and from the far side of the room there is even a stray beer that is thrown from a rather excited audience member.
One strength Band of Skulls possess is the dual talent of lead vocals and guitar they have in Russell Marsden. His guitar playing is faultless and shows he could be a contender for a blues player of his generation within a few years. The thunderous drumming of Matt Hayward combined with the slinky basslines and second vocalist of Emma Richardson complete the line up and prove evermore that Band of Skulls are brilliant musicians. Probably more of a musician/studio band than a live act as their presence is a bit subdued, but I have no doubt in saying that over the next 12 months, particularly with the festival season coming up, they will improve their game tenfold.
But when a band has tracks such as ‘The Devil Takes Care Of His Own’, ‘Bomb’, ‘Blood’ and ‘Light of The Morning’ to pad out the main set, you do begin to wonder why the masses have not yet discovered them. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to see a band in a small, hot and sweaty venue, in fact, I prefer it, but these guys are so talented it does strike you as weird especially when the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees all appeared on the scene around the same time. The dual vocals of Russell and Emma work so well together, but sound even better when the whole room are getting into the groove and joining in. Tonight’s gig has a very vocal crowd attached which is what helps to make it on another level. The between song banter is kept to a minimum, but at least they do acknowledge the crowd!
The main set draws to a close on their biggest ‘hit’ to date, the über blues infestation of ‘Death By Diamonds & Pearls’. Tonight it sounds epic and huge in this tiny venue, made extra special by the crowd singing various guitar licks (where I am situated anyway). As the tracks grinds to a small feedback induced halt, the hall erupts with elation and cheering, it could almost be the closing number. The band saunter off stage for a brief moment and then return in that bearable ‘we walked off stage, you wanted more, we all know there’ll be an encore so we came back’ kind of way. The majestic ‘Hometowns’ opens the encore swiftly followed with some sincerities and a brief goodbye and thank you for coming before launching into the closing number, a thunderous ‘Impossible’.
Tonight has left me very satisfied. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a Band of Skulls gig and honestly feel like I have seen a band on the cusp of something great. Although I have picked up on a few negativities within the review, it is hard to capture the raw emotion and energy of a band in words. They were fab live and put on a great show. As their confidence grows I expect their shows to become more interactive with the crowd. The one thing I hope they do not lose though is there intense raw nature. It’s rare to go to a gig where each note is not as it is on a cd/lp. They can bend the notes enough to know they are playing live and become masters of it. If you get the chance to see Band of Skulls over the summer, quite simply, do it.