Gig review: Band of Skulls at Leeds University Stylus

We've all been there. In the middle of discussing musical preferences, someone in an attempt to bolster their perceived sophistication announces that '˜they're OK but I prefer their earlier stuff'.
Band of Skulls at Leeds University Stylus. Picture: David HodgsonBand of Skulls at Leeds University Stylus. Picture: David Hodgson
Band of Skulls at Leeds University Stylus. Picture: David Hodgson

Usually they walked out of the matinee of a Hollywood blockbuster and in doing so ‘discovered’ Bryan Adams or Bruce Springsteen, thereby promoting themselves to aficionado status, blissfully ignorant that the new found favourite artist has had a long track record of delivering great music for some time.

It can be pretty much guaranteed that this will not happen to Band of Skulls. Having watched the Southampton three-piece hard rock band grow from small club venues through the release of three consistently stunning albums, it was always going to be interesting to see how they would make the leap into what might be termed ‘the big league’. The bands latest release that forms the backbone of the current tour, By Default, enlisted famed producer Gil Norton who’s CV includes Foo Fighters, Pixies and Twin Atlantic.

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The result is a more accessible if less hard edged and raw rock sound, a more US orientated feel, potentially aiming to have that track that introduces the band to a wider fan base. Having just returned from a successful tour of the States and as if to emphasise the point, they were joined on the Leeds stage by the faint sound of electronica in the form of keyboards and electric drums, albeit hidden in the shadows.

Sound that was, frankly, during set opener In Love By Default a horrible distorted mess, a fact not lost upon lead singer Russell Marsden as he called upon a technician before Light of Morning to remedy matters, pointing out that the microphone had been giving him electric shocks during sound check.

After this brief interval, the only thing that received electric shocks for the following 90 minutes were both the band’s and the audience’s energy levels.

The set covered all the band’s albums, Himalayan has a brooding, thumping beat that can only really be played in basement venues with structurally sound foundations. Bodies and Back Magic shone from the new album, the latter especially so as Marsden is joined by bassist Emma Richardson on vocals, a particularly strength as their vocal styles complement beautifully over the hard guitars.

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Whilst there might be a new electronic kid on the block, drummer Matt Hayward still drove the set from the back seat through Patterns, Sweet Sour and The Devil Takes Care of His Own.

The loudest crowd reactions are saved for the more well known tracks, Hoochie Coochie and set closer Diamonds and Pearls before the band inevitably reemerge to blast through encores I Know What I Am and Asleep at the Wheel.

Whether By Default achieves what it has undoubtedly set out to do remains to be seen, but one constant will always be that Band of Skulls remain one of the most potent, unrestrained and thundering hard blues rock sounds on the circuit. If the most recent tracks do pick up new fans on the way, you can be guaranteed that anyone who extols the band’s virtues has listened to the back catalogue, has been blown away by it and genuinely means it when they say they are fervent fan.