Concert Review: Band of Skulls @ 9:30 Club (9/19/19)

Bandk of Skulls
Emma Richardson and Russell Marsden of Band of Skulls (Photo from FB @bandofskulls)

You’re not pretty, but you got it goin’ on.

Band of Skulls kicked off their healthy set at 9:30 Club on September 19th with the title track from their newest album, “Love Is All You Love”.

It’s surprising that there weren’t more people lined up to witness Band of Skulls’ excellent brand of blues and garage rock live. Yet those that did make the foray and moved to the front were all in, singing along as if this was their last rock concert.

Next came “You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On”, which wins as the best rock song title for backhanded compliments. Whether they are pretty or not, we know Band of Skulls can play! The band is Russell Marsden (vocals, guitar), Emma Richardson (vocals, bass) and Matt Hayward (drums) from Southampton, England.

Before the BoS set, from the back balcony behind the stage, we could see Matt enjoying the indie rock opener Demob Happy. Also from England, the three gents of Demob Happy put on a clinic of burly guitar jams, bruising drum barrages, and massive bangers, often putting on a heavy metal hat. Demob Happy is Matthew Marcantonio (vocals, bass), Thomas Armstrong (drums) and Adam Godfrey (guitar). Matthew looks like a rocker’s rendition of George Harrison. Adam had five broken strings flaying out from the end of his guitar. Thomas played like he’d have a new drum set the next day. Of note from the nine songs they played is “Autoportrait”, which blazed along with massive riffs, and reminds one of another British rock band, Kasabian (a good thing). And “Loosen It” a dance worthy track where Matthew also sings falsetto. They are touring on the strength of their second album, Holy Doom, from 2018.

Back to BoS, where later the intro to “Bruises” is probably my favorite lead in, and along with its heavy jams and catchy hook of a chorus, about watching bruises heal, it proved to be one of the highlights of the evening.

Even though Band of Skulls are touring for their fifth album, 2019 also marks the 10th Year Anniversary of their debut album, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, so they are celebrating that milestone on this tour. They dedicated almost half of their set to songs from Baby, giving old and new fans alike something to reminisce on or discover. Like “Patterns”, with Emma’s grooving bass, also gave her one of many chances to sing vocals. The lyrics are about counting patterns, but the best part is the sludgy riffs that bridge into bass heavy, urgent guitars that seemingly never end.

Also from Baby, “Cold Fame” is a slow, brooding poem about knowing your place in the world. For a brief moment, the 9:30 Club turned into a high school prom, as a giant disco ball spread light and auras across the rapt faces slow dancing to Russell’s sincere vocals. His easy guitar groove was ‘certainly’ sincere as well, giving us a welcome change of pace. An honorary member of the band worked hard to provide Russell his constant stream of guitars, as he switched for nearly every song. I counted about five different electric guitars and one acoustic one poised and ready for the fourth band member to grab and rush to the stage.

With “Hometowns” they went acoustic, and Russell claimed they hadn’t played that song on any previous American tours. The cool new single, “Cool Your Battles”, wants us to approach life with positivity and avoid fighting.

One of their best songs is “Sweet Sour”, from their second album of the same name. They gave us 20 songs overall, with a sampling from all of their five albums, save By Default. I guess they needed those slots for their early material.

Also from Baby, “I Know What I Am” is the first song I heard by BoS (if I recall, it was an iTunes free download). It’s a free flowing pop rock song that I liked then, but it wasn’t until a British friend said a few years later ‘Hey, check these guys out!’ that I really dove in to their first two albums. This was the third time I’ve seen them perform at the 9:30 Club (2014 and 2016), and now I’m thinking 2019 was the best of the three.

The three-song encore started with “Light of the Morning” and “Death By Diamonds and Pearls”, both from Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, and both getting the crowd fully stoked. The final song was the new anthem “Carnivorous”, but with a twist. Both Russell and Emma put down their guitars and nakedly sang the biting lyrics in unison. Then they used their freedom from instruments as an excuse to drop down to the main floor and lead the smiling crowd in a rousing jump circle.

Get in line the next time BoS comes to DC! And until then, Love Is All You Love is waiting to join your record collection.

Love Is All You Love
You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On
That’s My Trouble
Cool Your Battles
Cold Fame
Dull Gold Heart
Sweet Sour
The Devil Takes Care of His Own
Hoochie Coochie
I Know What I Am
Asleep at the Wheel

Light of the Morning
Death by Diamonds and Pearls

Demob Happy (Opener) Setlist
Fake Satan
Junk DNA
Underneath Your Tree (I think)
Strange Things
Loosen It
Less Is More
Be Your Man

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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