Band of Skulls at The Joiners (01/08/13)

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With a newly refurbished bar area, no longer smelling of the characteristic stale beer but of fresh paint, I felt like I’d walked into a completely different venue (fingers crossed the toilets will be next!) The place looked great with it’s much needed revamp, however I was still strangely comforted by the fact that the main band performance space was still the old dark area that I know and love so well – perfect for what was to genuinely be one of the best gigs I’ve been to at The Joiners (I’ve been to a lot!), thanks to the incredible Band of Skulls. The last performance in their hometown Southampton was in December, 2012 at The Guildhall, but here they now were downsizing and intimate in what has been voted as NME’s best small venue.

But before they took to the stage, we were to be graced by the presence of psychedelic rock band Dead Rabbits. Unfortunately though, there was nothing graceful or remotely exciting about their presence. At first I was hopeful with their grungy style, consisting of atmospheric synth alongside guitar riffs and chunky bass lines that complimented each other well. However the whole band looked thoroughly bored with their own set; not bothering to introduce themselves or many of their songs really made it difficult for a first time listener to get into their music. The drummer put absolutely no energy into her uninteresting playing, leading to the instrument surprisingly being overpowered by the rest of the band – something which shouldn’t happen to the drummer! In fact, when the synth player got the tambourine out, it added more percussional prowess than the drumkit did for the whole set. When the lyrics of the lead singer could be heard, it was like listening to a 12-year-old’s diary entry which felt slightly awkward and the lead guitarist probably should invest in contact lenses or one of those ‘stylish’ but practical straps as I spent the whole set worrying that his precariously perched glasses would fall off completely! Overall, the band did have good musical ability, but they just seem to miss that musical passion and charisma in their playing.

Band of Skulls were to make up for the disappointing support act nevertheless – when they kicked off their set, immediately life was breathed back into the venue, and the crowd were fired up. I noticed whilst waiting for them to come on that the band attract an interesting and surprising mish mash of fans, with no particular specific demographic – I must admit it made for a very friendly audience! ‘Bruises‘, followed by ‘Patterns’ and then ‘Fires‘ all sounded incredible, with the double harmonies of Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson cutting in and out alongside the heavy distinctive guitar riffs and absolutely incredible solid drumming from Matt Hayward, filled with technical ability. Such fantastic stage presence really does draw you into their tight performance, which was a lot of fun to watch and sing along to. The audience singing participation and general enthusiasm clearly had Russell positively beaming!

The setlist consisted of a couple of new songs amongst the classic favourites such as ‘The Devil Takes Care of His Own, ‘Cold Fame, ‘Hollywood Bowl and ‘Death by Diamonds and Pearls’. The new material all felt instantly familiar and welcome thanks to their characteristic riffs. The shorter set meant they omitted some of the slower paced songs that have sometimes been accused of taking away some momentum from their performances in previous tours. Even the breaks in the heavier parts of the songs were excellently timed for maximum effect; just as important as the main playing parts. The skilful guitar playing from Russell was great to witness – I’m pretty sure every song included a change of guitar! A great way to kick off the month of upcoming gigs at The Joiners. Next stop, Little Comets on 9th August  – which is close to selling out!

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