There are people who like to go to a live music show to hear expertly crafted music played expertly and there are those who go to a live music show to experience a little dab of that extra something; that slap from another world almost, the feeling of being at a living, breathing event. For groups of friends, or maybe schizophrenics, who are made up of both those types of people there are certain acts that cover both bases. Acts like Band of Skulls.
So maybe it’s not surprising to see just a handful of the public have made it to witness the start of Coves’ supporting set. Why turn up early for a shot of decaf when there’s an avalanche of Columbian Marching Powder on its way in an hour? Right?
Well, no. Not quite.
Coves are hidden almost entirely in darkness for the entirety of their short set but this, if anything, only adds to how easy it is to get soaked up into the shady waves of sound they produce. No real visuals to distract from the music. It’s not unusual for bands to throw lashings of other-worldly sound effects into the mix these days but we’re wise to that as an audience now if the substance beneath isn’t particularly, well, substantial. Coves don’t suffer from any such problem though; a swirling, dark ocean of brooding indie noises and rising vocal musings breeze in and out of your brain like ghosts of psychedelia past.
Indiedelica; it’s murky parentage suggesting that, at some point in time, Death in Vegas, The Doors and a Tarantino soundtrack had all dirtied the same bed sheets. Add to all that the fact that one half of this duo might well be the post-Florence Stevie Nicks-type frontwoman we’ve all been waiting for and you start to see why it only takes a couple of songs before the bar staff are left twiddling their thumbs.
Sometimes, well known bands can do something quite impressive even though they may get plastered all over the airwaves for weeks on end when they are releasing new material. Sometimes, well known bands can surprise you and make you hear what the beast beneath all that slick, studio knob-twiddling jiggery-pokery really sounds and feels like. Band of Skulls have mastered this trick.
The polished sounds that slide out of radio stations all over the country (and indeed the world) are a far cry from the juggernaut that is unleashed on stage.
They don’t even bother with dropping the lights when they walk on and almost appear without anyone noticing – then it begins with ‘Asleep at the Wheel’, opener from their new album ‘Himalayan’. The rigorous assault of thick, bluesy rock riffs they’ve built their following on pours through this track. The music is like a punch in the arm, the drums hammer down like boulders hitting a tin roof and the bass is the Titanic pulling into your driveway. The new songs have a big presence in the opening part of the set – they are plugging their new album after all – and it seems like their latest offering will be bringing us more of the solid same. They could churn out another ten albums of “the same” though and the worst thing that could be said about them is that they’ve mimicked AC/DC’s career path – it’s most definitely not broke so I doubt fixing it should be considered anytime soon.
Maybe the most striking thing about the show is that Band of Skulls look, sound, and play like a band that have been doing this for a lot longer than they actually have been. They fiddle about with the songs (little misleading intros are commonplace just before the next big opening riff) and give them an extra kick up the arse and added grunt – things get all ethereal at one point before the opening chug of ‘Patterns’ clatters out of the dry ice like a truck coming through your living room window.
As much as nobody dares make any comparisons between anyone and Led Zepplin (hallowed be thy name) you can’t help but spot glimpses of Bonzo in the way drummer Matt Hayward slams hits kit further and further into the floor with each passing moment and in the way tempo and time signature changes are artfully navigated.
Later in the set, more new numbers bring out some hints of Nick Cave and point to a perhaps darker feel to future creations. Then, as if to correct me and say ‘we’ve been doing this for ages’ they smother the place in filthy, gut-slamming stink with a pile driving version of ‘The Devil Takes Care of His Own’.
A slick ‘Hollywood Bowl’ brings the lights down and leaves people wanting more, so it’s fortunate that the band don’t shun tradition and come back out to sledgehammer every single one of us with the thumping ‘Sweet Sour’ – the bass is just plain violent, absolute sonic sadomasochism. It’s still shuddering through my shins when the familiar closing combo of ‘Light of the Morning’ and ‘Death by Diamonds and Pearls’ signal the end of a performance that did everything possible to show Band of Skulls for what they truly are; not a thing to just be listened to through a stereo but an entity that should be felt, up close and personal, close enough to see that they are one of this country’s leading bands.