Concert review: Band of Skulls

VIENNA, Va., March, 30, 2012—Attempting to make the jump commercially across the Atlantic can lead to several unintended outcomes. When the Band of Skulls started to make a dent in the U.S., they might not have expected to generate the kind of audience who showed up to their show at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC. The type of atmosphere for a Band of Skulls show is likely to be different when they play in England, but it’s hard to imagine it is any less energetic.

Band of Skulls is a blues rock trio from Southampton, England best known for their heavy guitar riffing and the intermingling of vocals between guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson. Their style plays like a modernization of something a person would expect Eric Clapton to be playing in his early days.

Still blues rock is a specific genre of rock that’s relatively more visible in England than it is in the US. It’s very much a British musical leaning for whatever reason. Aside from a few bands here and there who have crossed over, it’s not the type of music generally met with much widespread attention on this side of the Atlantic. The show being sold out made the evening much more encouraging and surprising.

Although it wasn’t necessarily a crowd someone would expect at a blues rock concert. Instead the audience appeared more geared towards a jam band. The crowd was very much the free willing and dancing kind of crowd.

There’s a lot of elements shared by blues rock and jam bands, and they come from similar roots, but there are also some fairly noticeable differences Band of Skulls. The most glaring being jam bands tendency to linger on songs, stretching songs out past their breaking point with elongated soloing and spontaneous riffing.

Band of Skulls are a much more concise band and ardent in their song structure. They never really venture out beyond the way their songs are crafted on their recorded material. Soloing is a part of the band’s sound, but it’s much more contained than it would be otherwise.

Although this gives an air that Band of Skulls was playing against their audience, which isn’t true. It might have been an audience that was unexpected, but they still gave the band a great amount of energy and appreciated the stronger aspects of the band.

The band is at their strongest when the interplay between Marsden and Richardson is at the forefront. The interplay between the two is so strong that it’s almost unfortunate when a song doesn’t feature both of them. This is especially true in a live setting as their two voices just seem to bounce off each other to great effect.

Aside from their singing, Band of Skulls taps is able to tap in the seedier side of blues rock. Some of their most well known songs like “Sweet Sour,” the title track of their last album, are downright gritty and evokes classic ‘70s English rock. It also shows off some of their more inventive riffing. The grittiness though never takes away from the songs being melodic in nature, allowing the band to give their take on blues rock a more modern feel.

Band of Skulls is one best examples of the blues rock export from England. Their style of play of is relatively unexpected in the States and their fan base will grow in different ways because of its variance from the prominent scenes here.

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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