The raw musicianship was introduced immediately to a packed Sheffield Leadmill through the image of the stage. No fancy lighting rigs, backdrops or gimmicks. Just a drum set, a bass rig, a guitar rig and two microphones. After a fearless performance from psychedelic rockers Bo Ningen, the stage awaited a very professional Band Of Skulls performance.
Opening with a one-two punch in the form of killer renditions of ‘Light of the Morning’ and ‘Himalayan.’ Band of Skulls embarked on their 17-song journey through blues and rock. The anticipation between each of the opening phases of ‘Light in the Morning’ gave both audience and band an opportunity to soak up the atmosphere. Rather fittingly, the opening song is also the first song of their debut album, ‘Baby Darling Dollface Honey’. It introduces a career spanning set. The trio were sporting cowboy boots, leather trousers, leather jackets and not to mention bassist Emma Richardson’s two piece suit – They certainly looked the part as they battered the famous Sheffield venue with a phenomenal performance.
The thing that most attracts me to Band of Skulls is that they let their music do the talking. Every ounce of energy and passion is projected through the clatter of a drum stick, a heavy, yet delicate guitar part, the solid rumble of a bass and the contrasting but complementing vocals of Richardson and Marsdon.
Russell Marsdon screams ‘YEAH!’ to the audience whenever there is a gap in the guitar lick. The crowd responds every single time, there is an immediate relationship, as every single person in the room is connected by the music.
After releasing their third album ‘Himalayan’ – The band have a wide selection of tracks to chose from. Each of the albums has its ‘hits’, which definately helped their song selection be appreciated by people who haven’t even heard much of their material! After blowing the roof off with their opening, Band of Skulls now had everybody in the palm of their hands. But it didn’t stop them, immediately followed were two tracks from their 2012 release ‘Sweet Sour’. Both ‘You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On’ and ‘Bruises’ begin with Marsden’s intricate guitar work, this only appears to be the calm before the storm, as both tracks erupt with a harmonious explosion. Matt Hayward’s drumming has to be mentioned several times, as the effortless dynamic he creates takes each song to a new place. There may well be just three of them, but Band of Skulls definitely produce the sound of a five piece.
The crowd are a sea of assertively nodding heads caught in the sweep of the stage lights during ‘Patterns’ from 2008’s debut album ‘Baby Darling Doll Face Honey’, the vocalists calling out to each other and Marsden leading the crowd into singing the final verse: “A pattern, there’s a pattern/there’s a pattern there to follow” they sing. And they’re not wrong, as for track after track Band of Skulls’ set list rolls along, it also most certainly rocks.
The set had a consistency throughout. The fire between the fans and the artist was kept alight as each song begun. Title track of the bands second album ‘Sweet Sour’ sounded as effective as the last time I saw them when they opened with it. A gradual build up of guitar trills leading to a Jack White-esc thumping chorus. In terms of songwriting, it is simple, yet very effective.
So we’re midway through the set as Russell Marsdon explains the bands recent activities: ‘We released our record earlier this year and have toured ever since, fingers crossed we’ll be in the studio soon to give you some more music.’ I thought the little introduction was quite fitting as the count in started for ‘Himalayan’s’ album opener ‘Asleep at the Wheel.’ Marsdon and Richardson’s harmonious triumph of ‘Where we are going is anyone’s guess’ really puts an insight into the bands future. There are boundaries there to be broken with Band of Skulls, as they showed at The Leadmill – they have only scratched the surface with their first three releases, there is certainly much more to come.
Songs from the new album were littered all over the set, ‘I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying’, ‘I Guess I Know You Fairly Well’ and all of the singles from the latest record were played. All very well received as most of the fans think this is Band of Skulls’ finest piece of work. However there were several fans shouting for ‘Nightmares’ to be played. ‘Nightmares’ was the first single released from the ‘Himalayan’ record, unfortunately it wasn’t part of the set.
Then it was time for the ‘classics’ or the ‘greatest hits’ part of the set. Hook after hook, lyric after lyric, they really gave the audience very little time to take a breath. ‘Death by Diamonds and Pearls’, ‘The Devil Takes Care of His Own’ and ‘I Know What I Am’ close the main part of the set. Most of these songs are fans favorites anyway, having them one after another gave a ferocious finish to the set. Especially ‘I Know What I Am’ which finished with Hayward playing on overload. A huge crash ending brought an intense ten-minute trio of gritty rock music to an end. The band left the stage shortly afterwards with the crowd roaring for more.
Due to a lack of time, they were back on stage! ‘Cold Fame’ for me, put the perspective of their entire set into one song. Through use of arpeggios, vocal harmonies and atmospheric percussion, the steady introduction was lifted into a frenzy of feedback and ravenous layers of bass and guitar. The hectic ending immediately went into indie dance floor filler ‘Hoochie Coochie’, which I must say, received one of the biggest crowd reactions of the night. After Marsdon thanked The Leadmill for its on going support, Hayward clicked his sticks together four times as they began the song where it all started. ‘Hollywood Bowl’ (which was written before they were even called Band of Skulls) creates a lot of audience participation. As we all shouted ‘Hey!’ throughout the choruses, and head bobbed in the verses, another extended crash ending bought the performance to a close. The room howled with applause as the three piece proceeded to the exit and to the rest of their tour. Next stop: Liverpool.
Band of Skulls concentrate on one little thing that a lot of people are forgetting about nowadays, the music. Their relationship with each other whilst performing really expresses their passion for what they do. They got soul! I would recommend them to any fan of rock music, or indeed, just music. And to any aspiring musician who wants to learn how to play the guitar – check out Russell Marsdon.
Magnificent – 9/10.