For those that like rock music unfussy and catchy, Band Of Skulls deliver those songs by the bucketload. Nothing that they do is remotely new-sounding – they wear their influences firmly on their sleeves – but the tricks that they rely on, whilst familiar, are used efficiently and sometimes to pretty devastating effect. Their two albums to date, 2009’s Baby Darling Doll Face Honey and this year’s Sweet Sour, offer pleasing amounts of distortion and melody, mixing muscular and straightforward rock with noodly bluesy forays.
Most importantly though, it’s their reputation as a live band that has won them fans – from packing out small venues to winning support slots with the likes of Muse and The Dead Weather – and their hard work is rewarded with their biggest headline show to date at Brixton Academy at the end of a celebratory UK tour.
As they emerge onto the stage to the dying strains of Paul McCartney‘s Live And Let Die, it’s all systems go for an hour and a half of no-frills action as they launch straight into the double hit of Sweet Sour and Bruises. Musically, the band are tight and workmanlike. Russel Marsden’s skills with the guitar are, at times, masterful. It’s all too tempting for him to play the role of show-off but he doesn’t overdo it as solos blaze out of the amps with gusto alongside boulder-sized riffs.
It all goes swimmingly until we reach the middle section of the set. In trying to find a balance between the heavy rock and the mellow and quieter numbers, the success rate varies and the momentum starts to dissolve. They just about redeem themselves though with the last run of heavy hitters. They are by far and away the strongest section of the show. You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On is a slice of blistering blues rock and it seems hard to believe that Death By Diamonds And Pearls is straight out of Southampton rather than the States. After what seems like a lengthy encore break they round things off a raucous The Devil Takes Care Of Its Own and Impossible.
Band Of Skulls still seem to be developing and, as the main bulk of touring for Sweet Sour ends, their future could go one of two ways. Watching them stroll around the stage gives the impression that they would quietly relish the bigger stages. They must be eyeing arenas as part of their future plans. On the other hand, you can’t constantly borrow from the same influences forever and they risk going backwards if they don’t add something new to their tried-and-tested formula.
As for this particular outing, all around the venue there is a sense of satisfaction; those down the front will probably wake up the following morning with knackered limbs whilst those near the back will wake up with sore necks from their own head-banging (and perhaps not particularly helped by the overpriced beer-assisted sore head). Sometimes they could be a bit more cohesive and concise but when they get it right the results are enjoyable.