I arrived before the doors opened. Just from the line forming outside the theater, I could tell that Band of Skulls had an enthusiastic following. The excitement was palpable. After the recent release of their new album, Sweet Sour, the band geared up for an international tour. The group, hailing from England, obviously had quite the draw in America. The show was sold out, and in a small venue like the Bluebird, that meant sweat, heat, and closeness only a mother could love.
The opening band, We Are Augustines, started the night out with an almost tangible energy, leaving the crowd primed for the main attraction. Band of Skulls came on the stage after a half-hour intermission. The lights dimmed; a blue aura came over the ambience. One by one, from the side of the stage, the group came into view. Upon taking their places behind the microphones, Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson immediately encountered volume issues in the stage monitors. Considering we had already waited 30 minutes for the band to take the stage, this was disappointing. This sort of problem should have been dealt with during the sound check, not during five awkward minutes at the beginning of the set.
Delay aside, Band of Skulls got going with a rip-roaring rendition of the title track off the new album. Having already heard the album version many times, it was nothing short of awesome to listen to the band creating those same sounds live. These guys have the potential to rip some faces off. Their sound, a mix of T-Rex distortion and Black Keys style blues, tore through the small venue like lighting. The crowd roared. From here, the energy went up and up, from heavy to heavier. I never would have guessed how raw and gritty the band's live sound was. Marsden, like a veritable boss, tore into his Fender Jaguar with a force resembling Jack White. His solos had impeccable tone while using that guitar. For the more traditional blues songs, he switched over to a Gretsch hollow body, which altered his tone from a crunchy, rock sound, to a more mellow, tube-distorted Chicago blues sound.
As I expected from the group's recorded sound, the drummer, Matt Hayward, deserves some major props for his ability to provide a solid foundation on which Richardson and Marsden can rock. One of my favorite moments of the night was when the band played their song "Wanderluster." The tune is built on a 7/8 rhythm, which Hayward held down expertly. They ended the song in a cascade of energetic sound, the drums rolling, bass thumping, guitar wailing. It was the kind of triumphant song finale one might expect from an old school rock band. It was cool. The first time. Then they did it on the next song, and the next, and the next. I lost count at five. It was kind of silly, the way they ended with an over-energetic bang so many times. They didn't need to do that. They are a good group, their songs are enough. It can be over-bearing when a band ends every song with a finale. It's like a fireworks show that blinds everybody.
Don't get me wrong, though. Band of Skulls delivers in a big way. The band rocks. If you like the sound, see them live. You will not be disappointed.
Highlights: "Sweet Sour," "Wanderluster," "The Devil Takes Care of His Own."