Band Of Skulls

support Rated R
author TL date 08/05/12 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

It's Tuesday May 8th and it's a night of good news and bad news here in Lille Vega. The bad news is that a) none of my friends know enough about good music to have bothered to accompany me tonight and none of our photographers could make it - so hence I am pulling my best lone wolf impression swigging beers before the sets start, and b) this show takes place the same evening as the legendary Cursive are playing elsewhere in town, and as the clock moves closer to 9, my hopes of the bands here starting early enough for me to make both concerts is slowly circling down the drain. The good news is that this is only a mild inconvenience in my perspective because I am after all about to see Band Of Skulls, one of the coolest upcoming British rock'n'roll bands around, who - if their latest album "Sweet Sour" is anything to go by - are bound to soon shower in the adoration of music lovers with a taste for music like that of The Kills and The White Stripes. That and the fact that by the time local support act Rated R come on stage, Lille Vega is already reasonably full of people chatting merrily over their drinks, seemingly in the mood for a good time.

Rated R

As soon as Rated R come on stage, any suspicions one might have had about the inspiration for their band name are confirmed, as their frontman - having donned his best red/black checkered shirt - makes like Josh Homme and leads his band into a session of riff-centric, ballsy rock'n'roll. The good news is that the riffs the band has brought along are indeed as badass as intended and on many an occasion this reviewer must nod in recognition as the band successfully lead one rad guitar into another. The bad news is that when looking at the stage, it's clear to see that these guys are a lot of experience removed from appearing anywhere as cool as the sound they send out through the speakers.

Each of the three standing members of the band seem very cautious in their attempts at rocking out, their eyes rarely straying far from the necks of their own or their band mates' instruments, and they seem noticably concerned with keeping time and playing the right chords. Were it not for their drummer, who seems confident in laying down the beat and providing the sound with a backbone, one gets the feeling that the band would be in trouble. Furthermore, the bands' frontman - whose mid-pitch, raw-edged rock'n'roll voice sounds par for the course, no better and no worse - seems to be at a total loss when it comes to engaging the audience with any sort of personality or originality, so between songs all we get to know him for is a hesitant "so are you excited to see Band Of Skulls?" and effectively the crowd never moves to close the initial gap between them and the stage. Overall, the performance can be summed up as follows: Sounds promising, but looks like a band that needs to both play and practice much more to truly impress anyone.

6

Band Of Skulls

After some thirty minutes of changeover time, the curtains are drawn and Band Of Skulls appear before an audience that has already closed all gaps, and from the edge of the stage to the bar, Lille Vega is now full of people waiting with anticipation to see the Southampton trio that has the role of headliners tonight. And as is to be proven over the next one and a half hour, the main piece of news about Band Of Skulls is both good and bad at the same time: These guys (and girl) are seemingly only at the very beginning of understanding just how good their band and their music is. It's palpable immediately, as proceedings are opened with the preposterously cool title-track from "Sweet Sour", which gets the first couple of rows swaying back and forth at once, and is followed by the first of many rounds of generous applause from the gathered audience.

Singer/guitarist Russell Marsden seems the one closest to embracing the rock star role, often stepping up to the edge of the stage to squeeze badass riffage out of his guitar and letting out shouts of "Whooo!" and "Yeaaah!" in between lines of lyrics. Between songs however, he is as stoic as is singer/bassist Emma Richardson - who spends the duration of the show hanging back coolly, laying down her bass lines and vocal parts with a plain grimace almost completely masking what both band members seem to be thinking; "wow, I still can't believe we're in a foreign country and all these people are here to see us".

It's a small wonder that we are here however, because as the show goes on with songs both old and new - like "Patterns", "Fires", "Bruises" and "Wanderluster" - it becomes clear that just as cautious and humble as the band acts between songs, they sound just as in control of the redemption of rock'n'roll when the drums are cracking and guitar, bass, male and female vocals join and interchange in their tastefully woven quiet/loud dynamics. One moment we're swaying and feeling sexy to the sound of a brazen bass line and the next we're banging heads to a stomping riff, and for each time a composition jumps from calm to forceful, Band Of Skulls seem to sound more and more powerful.

Admittedly there are a few lulls in the performance though - found especially during some of the slower old songs if you ask me - and during these it is especially felt that Richardson's lazy female vocals aren't coming through as convincingly as Marsden's rock'n'roll sneer is tonight. Furthermore, the band - which is completed by spirited drummer Matt Hayward by the way - can often be seen looking intently at each other, to make sure the timing is perfect during some of the more rhythmically challenging parts, and while this means they get it right, I personally get the feeling that the band could really maximise their coolness if they could one day become as well-rehearsed as Queens Of The Stone Age for instance, who have often been seen playing a similar style of music, stopping and starting with seamless machinistic precision.

Perhaps it is similar observations then, that are to blame for most of tonight's audience beyond the first few rows opting to remain relatively stationary, restraining their enthusiasm to the generous between-song clapping I mentioned earlier. There's more nodding than dancing going on, and little to no singing along while the band is actually playing, and while it could just be that the sort of audience Band Of Skulls attracts in Denmark is a calmer one, it could just as easily be that people had expected for the band to be a bit more rock'n'roll in real life, just as they sound on their records.

Though the show would be better if the band had got more swagger and if the audience was more vivid, it honestly doesn't bother me so much. Because to me, rock'n'roll is first and foremost about producing badass music with skill and conviction, and in that department Band Of Skulls does not disappoint at all, with numbers like "You're Not Pretty But You Got It Going On", "Death By Diamonds And Pearls" and "The Devil Takes Care Of His Own" rocking particularly hard tonight, just as they do on record. And it's during the performances of these, as we near the end of the show which closes with an encore consisting of the aforementioned "Devil.." and "Impossible", that I decide that no matter the reservations of the rest of the audience and the room for improvement in the band's on stage behaviour, this is still a hell of a good time, and as I leave I'm already aching to go see Band Of Skulls again as soon as I possibly can.

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Setlist:

  • 1. Sweet Sour
  • 2. Lies
  • 3. Patterns
  • 4. Fires
  • 5. Bruises
  • 6. Wanderluster
  • 7. Cold Fame
  • 8. Bomb
  • 9. Blood
  • 10. Lay My Head Down
  • 11. Hollywood Bowl
  • 12. I Know What I Am
  • 13. You're Not Pretty But You Got It Going On
  • 14. Light Of The Morning
  • 15. Death By Diamonds And Pearls
  • -Encore-
  • 16. The Devil Takes Care Of His Own
  • 17. Impossible

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