Live review: Band of Skulls

God bless independent venues. In a world where the music industry becomes more about business than artistic expression – looking at you, Taylor Swift – it’s good to know that independent venues will forever remain a safe haven for the underground, the undiscovered and bars that don’t require taking out a mortgage to get half cut. In celebration of these venues, the organisers of Independent Venue Week and purveyors of disgusting hangovers Jägermeister have teamed up to bring Southampton blues-rockers Band of Skulls into some of the tiniest rooms imaginable. That’ll be a quiet night at the library then.

Apart from a headlining slot at last year’s Stag and Dagger festival, touring for Band of Skull’s latest album ‘By Default’, never reached Scotland. So, this frankly miniscule show not only represents an outpouring of support for local venues, but also Band of Skull’s first Scottish headline show in nearly 18 months. Furthermore, the fact that Band of Skulls are in that weird limbo period between albums means that the band are left to do what they do best: crank out some absolute jams.

And crank out the jams they do. Opening with the slow burning ‘Sweet Sour’ and the Zeppelin emulating groove of ‘Black Magic’, Band of Skulls proceed to churn out nineteen grade A monsters over the course of the next ninety minutes. Early appearances from ‘Patterns’ and the disco influenced ‘So Good’ showcase the vocal talents of bassist Emma Richardson, while more upbeat moments like ‘You Ain’t Pretty But You Got It Going On’ perfectly compliment vocalist Russel Marsden’s incendiary guitar playing.

While Marsden’s promise of no slow songs doesn’t exactly ring true, this is hardly a bad thing. In fact, it’s the more mellow moments where Band of Skulls really shine, with ‘Nightmares’ and ‘Bruises’ being obvious highlights of the set. Saying that, I’m a sucker for a riff, and Band of Skulls deliver them in spades. The spaghetti Western influences on ‘I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying’ give way to a chorus so sludgy I felt genuinely dirty after hearing it, and the chorus of ‘Asleep At The Wheel’ comes roaring out of the venue’s tiny PA system at ear mangling volume.

Since an encore in a venue this small would be futile, the band continue playing right up until curfew. Ending with a slew of songs from their debut album, which showcases the more blues-influenced end of the band’s sound, no era of Band of Skulls’ career is left untouched.

All in all, my first experience of Independent Venue Week was pretty decent. Seeing such a truly brilliant band in such cozy confines serves as an important reminder that, if we don’t support places like the Bungalow, young bands cannot establish themselves. This would result in the music industry becoming even more stagnant and stale than it already is, and we don’t want that, do we? Thought not.

By Fraser Bryce

Photo credit: Alan K Gray