“This is the start of a new era,” says Band of Skulls frontman Russell Marsden.
It’s Thursday night at The Boileroom and Guildford’s getting loose. It feels like a Friday – this is going to be good.
Up on stage though, things are far from loose. Band of Skulls’ mercilessly tight grooves mingle with all the ferocity of Queens Of The Stone Age yet the simplicity of AC/DC.
Notes are never spare, stray or squandered, beats are as prickly as they punchy – “on point”, one might say.
It’s all the more remarkable then this is the very first night of Band of Skulls’ “new era”.
LP4 “By Default” drops on May 27 and tonight’s typically intimate, sweaty show at The Boileroom is, unsurprisingly, a sell-out.
This is a band both used to, and destined to continue, selling out considerably bigger venues, a band for whom critical acclaim was never lavished, but hard-earned – and richly deserved.
“We’re going to try and play as much as we can for you guys,” chimes Marsden, a broad smile on his face, only partially masked by his immaculately straight brown hair.
The band, completed by bassist Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward, visibly itch to cut straight to the new material they’re clearly so eager to share. They waste no time in doing so.
Title track of sorts, In Love by Default, builds slowly but logically from small flecks of reverb-soaked guitar to a thunderous, wailing refrain driven by Richardson’s yelps of “Yeah, Yeah, YEAH!”, The Boileroom all the while bathed in stark blue light.
Album opener Black Magic, by comparison, is a gloriously straight-forward affair, a bruising stomper and bona fide fan favourite in the making.
This is gutsy blues fare, picking up from where the likes of The Black Keys lost their way and Tame Impala deviated.
In total, the band air seven of By Default’s 12 tracks. The songs are rough, ready and raw, not yet weary from months on the road. Perhaps the most immediate of them is Killer, the first official release from By Default.
It’s a dirty number, propelled by Marsden and Richardson’s interlocking fretwork and a vitriolic chorus of “Killer, Killer, KILLER!”.
The crowd have done their homework though; they holler every word straight back at the band. One punter, meanwhile, repeatedly asks Richardson to marry him – he gets a smile and a raised fist in his direction.
Old favourites punctuate the band’s hour-long set. Ikwia gives Marsden a chance to show off his chops while Sweet Sour brings to mind Angus Young in all his schoolboy pomp.
2014’s “Himalayan” is represented by its eponymous title track and the gonzo Hoochie Coochie, an oh-so brief flashback to Wolfmother’s cocksure schtick.
Vocal duties flit between Marsden and Richardson, save for those rare moments when they come together in effortless harmony – to great effect.
Light of the Morning and Diamonds and Pearls bring the band’s main set to a ringing crescendo, the latter complete with one brave crowd surfer writhing atop the seething melée on the floor, steadying himself with a reassuring hand on the ceiling.
As ever, The Boileroom’s “encore problem” is as quaint and endearing as it is bemusing, if only because it makes such delightful mockery of the ludicrous idea an encore in 2016 is any more spontaneous than it is an expectation.
“We’d normally head out for a half [pint] and a fag,” quips Marsden. “But, you know, there’s no way out – so we’ll just play a couple more.”
First up is the aforementioned Killer, but the absolutely bonkers Asleep at the Wheel is a more fitting finale, its frequent and dramatic changes of tempo serving only to further accentuate Marsden’s bellowed refrain of “Cause where we are going is anyone’s guess!”.
With one final flurry of riffs, the trio are done. Marsden strides to the front of the stage and presses himself up against the barrier, proffering his guitar to the audience in recognition of their spirit.
One can only hope it has been as memorable a return for the band as it has been a welcome one for their flock.
Photos by Jake Darling.
Originally published on Get Surrey, 29/04/16.