Location: The Limelight 2, Belfast
It seems like quite a bit of synchronicity that a band called Band of Skulls are due to play in Belfast on the eve of Halloween, as the Limelight 2 plays host to a near sell-out crowd (guitarist Russell Marsden later remarks that it is one of the most intimate gigs of their tour).
But before we get to Band of Skulls we are treated to the opening act, Australian duo DZ Deathrays, an act whose name I was familiar with beforehand, whilst not being really familiar with their music. Thankfully, the band did a good job to impress right from the start, taking a lot of people by surprise by their intense, noise-rock sound and a good amount of depth and variety of sounds despite the limitations of the guitar/drums combination (quite how they managed to make their guitar sound like a robotic dentist drill at one point is somewhat beyond me, but one imagines some sort of extreme sorcery is involved). There were a few drawbacks from their set – Shane Parson’s microphone seemed to stop working a few times during the set, and the addition of an additional rhythm guitarist for the 2nd half of the set seems a little bit superfluous, but overall it’s a great set that did enough to make people sit up and take notice of them.
And now for the main attraction. Band of Skulls guitarist/vocalist Russell promises that they will try and fit as many songs into the set before the curfew, and that is exactly what the trio do over the next 90 minutes, in a rich and highly enjoyable set. Kicking off with “Light of The Morning”, the band launch into a set full of great blues inflected rock tracks. They are near faultless on the night, treating the crowd to a stellar set of tunes culled from the band’s three albums. Some of the highlights of the set included “Patterns”, one of the few songs featuring bassist Emma Richardson on lead vocals, which has the crowd ‘ooh oohing’ along to the song’s main riff, and “Sweet Sour”, which sees both Russell and Emma standing eye-to-eye to each other whilst playing, unsure as to whether they are going to embrace or knock each other out (or neither, as it eventually turns out). Quite a few of their newer songs go down well on the evening, with the most notable being “Asleep at The Wheel”, a song filled to the brim with an insatiable Muse-y bombast.
The band close their set with three-song salvo of their best-loved songs in quick succession, “Death By Diamonds And Pearls”, “The Devil Takes Care of His Own” and arguably their signature song, “I Know What I Am”*, which best demonstrates the band interplay between Russell and Emma, before leaving to the rapturous reception from the crowd. Their encore doesn’t capture the same energy, but it doesn’t really matter, as the band have managed to demonstrate what makes Band of Skulls such an irresistible live band – tight musicianship, great inter-band interaction, and above all, a barrel-full of catchy-as-heck rock songs.
*It also turns out that I’ve been getting the lyrics to that song wrong all these years. The lyrics are “I know what I am, they know what they are, so let me be.” Not, as I have thought since 2010, “I know what I am, there ain’t no other arsehole. Let me be.” Makes a lot more sense in hindsight.