Southampton-based rock trio Band Of Skulls are back with their Gil Norton-produced fourth studio album By Default. And to celebrate its launch next week, they played a duo of shows in North London; a last minute Lexington stop followed by tonight’s sold-out Electric Ballroom show. The band, comprised of guitarist-vocalist Russell Marsden, bass player and vocalist Emma Richardson and Matt Hayward on drums, who made waves with second and third LPs Sweet Sour and Himalayan, took inspiration from writing in a Southampton church for their fourth outing, a sound brought out in full to the Electric Ballroom.
The trio, joined by keyboard player Milo Fitzpatrick from London band Portico, strolled onto the Electric Ballroom stage and kicked off the night with the new album’s namesake cut In Love By Default. The Marsden-led track which features a distinct musical break part-way through, had the crowd fooled into thinking it was a short number before folding back into its opening slow funk rhythm.
“Thank you Camden, good evening, we’re Band Of Skulls from Southampton” Marsden said before Hayward rattled off the killer drum intro of By Default track Black Magic, the North London crowd in fine form, sinking their teeth firmly into the unfamiliar material.
“Thanks for coming out tonight, it’s really nice to share this with you. The moment before a record comes out is always the best moment, it’s a special time” Marsden said ahead of swaggering debut album track I Know What I Am which saw Marsden and Richardson sharing lead vocal duties and had the crowd moshing along with Hayward’s stomping beat. And if the first familiar tune got the crowd going, Sweet Sour cut You Aren’t Pretty But You Got It Going On kicked the set into a higher gear.
So Good was aired next, one of the tunes from By Default to feature Richardson on lead vocals before title track from sophomore album Sweet Sour had the crowd singing along again, the slow blues-infused instrumental break quickly turning heavy and getting them very animated.
“So you can sing, let’s see if you can dance as well” Marsden said, challenging the audience ahead of By Default track Bodies. A challenge the Electric Ballroom crowd took on, showing off their moves to the new tune by pogoing to the 70’s influenced rock chorus before 2009 single Patterns whipped them into a frenzy, a pit circle being coordinated during the verse and exploding as the chorus kicked in, hipsters in beards and braces bouncing off rockers dressed all in black and everyone in-between.
“We’ve got something very special, we wanted to get this summer started off properly, so here’s something suited for the temperature I imagine you’re all at right now” said Marsden, introducing samba-driven new song Tropical Disease, easily the most off-piste track from By Default, which was welcomed by the 1,100-strong sold out crowd with increasingly lubricated but open minds.
From the opening guitar licks, the crowd in the pit were bouncing off each other once more as the trio brought Himalayan to life in dramatic fashion. The Devil Takes Care of His Own had them screaming along once more as statuesque Richardson and guitarist Marsden split vocal duties down the middle.
The main set was closed out with Himalayan dance-along favourite Hoochie Coochie before a one-two punch of Baby Darling Doll Face Honey tracks Light Of The Morning and Death By Diamonds And Pearls.
After the customary stage exit, the three-piece returned for a short encore of lead By Default single Killer, the new tune already having the crowd singing along, before closing out the night with Himalayan single Asleep At The Wheel.
While Band Of Skulls may have been flying under the radar of the mainstream somewhat, they have a more than loyal fan base. And with a great 60’s and 70’s influenced rock repertoire coupled with a live show that kicks material from across their four studio albums into a deliciously fun affair, the trio are sure to be a huge draw this festival season.
Following a show in Brighton, Band Of Skulls head to Paris and Amsterdam before hitting the summer festival circuit with stops at Benicàssim, Y Not, Forgotten Fields and Glastonbury amongst others. They then round out the year with a UK tour including a Camden Roundhouse show before wrapping up in their hometown of Southampton.
Live review of Band Of Skulls @ Electric Ballroom by Kalpesh Patel on 19th May 2016.
Read all about Band Of Skulls kicking off the next phase of their output in an interview with exclusive portraits by Kalpesh Patel – Interview: Band Of Skulls, Church-Inspired Phase 2
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate