Band of Skulls represent something rather unique in music today, a bluesy, true three-piece rock band. Sure there are plenty of other three piece acts out there but a lot of times youâ€™ll see them sneak a touring member or two in there; not with Band of Skulls. Not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with adding a touring member, a lot of times it makes sense and is necessary for the song to work in a live atmosphere. But itâ€™s refreshing to see a group like Band of Skulls be uncompromising with their sound. No doubt this influenced the amount of success the band has had at a relatively early point in their career. The smash hit of a debut album they released probably helped a bit too. It seemed like every single (and even a few non-singles) off that album caught fire, being played in a myriad of commercials and TV shows that allowed them massive exposure. Hailing from Southampton in the UK, this talented three-piece was even able to garner success here in the US. Being historically late in catching onto British rock acts, American audiences seemed to connect with the dirty blues vibe that Band of Skulls showcases so well. Existing in a post-White Stripes musical landscape, they were able to capitalize on the lack of bluesy rock and really caught the attention of many. This allowed them to headline very early in their career, and thatâ€™s exactly what theyâ€™re doing in support of their sophomore album, Sweet Sour. Only being about a month or so old, theyâ€™ve already released a set successful of singles with â€˜The Devil Takes Care of His Ownâ€™ and â€˜Sweet Sour.â€™ And on March 22nd, their nationwide tour of the United States brought them to the historic Webster Hall in New York City. Though there were definitely some other choice shows that night, with The Black Keys playing another sold out Madison Square Garden show and Kasabian selling out Terminal 5, Band of Skulls still managed to pack the place out.
First up was local Brooklyn favorite, We Are Augustines. Though technically billed as support, from both the length of their set and the crowd reaction one could have mistaken this for a headlining gig. Playing over 40 minutes of music from their debut album Rise Ye Sunken Ships, they electrified the hometown audience with their incredibly intimate performance. Lead singer/guitarist Billy McCarthy made regular trips to the barrier to get closer to fans and was smiling for pretty much every second of the set. The passionate performance no doubt endeared them to the crowd, as the pit was more than happy to jump along to their songs. A set highlight was â€˜Philadelphia [The City of Brotherly Love],â€™ as McCarthyâ€™s unique vocals mixed incredibly well with the booming bass lines of Eric Sanderson and the determined beating of drummer Rob Allen. Pausing before their last song to thank their friends in attendance, McCarthy even remarked â€œIâ€™ve driven in a truck with that guy for years,â€ it was clear that We Are Augustines were extremely grateful to everyone in attendance. And the feeling was mutual as a fan handed him a mystery note, which he pinned to the mic stand during the final song.
After an unbelievably quick changeover, Band of Skulls hit the stage. Coming out of the gate incredibly strong with their new single â€˜Sweet Sour,â€™ was a great choice as it was one that nearly everyone knew and got the crowd going early. The riffy, slow-burner of a track was the perfect choice to open with, since it hits on pretty much all of the bandâ€™s strengths. Utilizing the vocals of guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson, this burning track has shows off an infectious riff and main chorus that had the entire crowd jamming along. They played a solid choice of tracks off the new album, with â€˜Youâ€™re Not Pretty But You Got It Going On,â€™ â€˜Wanderluster,â€™ and â€˜The Devil Takes Care of His Ownâ€™ all sounding fantastic. The sound that worked so well on the first album definitely carried over and increased ten-fold live, as the heavy bass lines and thumping beats (courtesy of drummer Matthew Hayward) literally shook the floor of Webster Hall. They kept the banter a minimum and instead focused on playing a hefty 90 minute set, which is an impressive for a band that only just released their second LP last month. Thatâ€™s not to say they didnâ€™t showcase any personality, as Marsden dead panned the crowd with â€œyou guys wonâ€™t know this one,â€ before launching into one of the bandâ€™s most popular songs, â€˜I Know What I Am.â€™ This was definitely one of the best moments of the set as itâ€™s one of their more consistently upbeat songs, made clear by the transformation of the pit into an all-out dance floor. Emma Richardson paced across the stage during the breakdown, challenging the crowd to belt out the well-known hook.
As the night went on the crowd swelled even more, with the floor becoming a sea of people reaching as far back as the bar and even overflowing up to a packed balcony. The band continued with their sarcastically funny intros to songs, as Marsden said, â€œall right, New York, weâ€™ve got one more songâ€ before launching into a great one-two punch of â€˜Light of the Morningâ€™ and â€˜Death by Diamonds and Pearls.â€™ Both songs received an incredible response from the audience, who at that point were completely enraptured in the bandâ€™s performance. The old-school blues vibe of â€˜Light of the Morningâ€™ sounded amazing, with the first few lines and main riff cutting through the entire venue. After being teased with a snippet of the song earlier, the crowd was more than happy to get the whole thing as they yelled out the chorus so loudly it almost drowned out the band. The same went for â€˜Death by Diamonds and Pearls,â€™ one of the best off their first album and an absolute monster track to hear live. Towards the end of the song, the entire band paused as Russell stalked over to the very edge of the stage to rip into the songâ€™s trademark breakdown. Like in most songs that night intros and breakdowns were extended, modified, teased, and pretty much made better in a thousand different ways. Itâ€™s refreshing to see a band bring such a free form, loose vibe to a show. Bringing a unique sound and incredible live presence, Band of Skulls prove that theyâ€™re deserving every bit of success so far and then some. Make sure to check them out as they stop by your local city on their nationwide tour in support of their new album, Sweet Sour.
All photos courtesy of Matt Arena
BAND OF SKULLS