(SXSW 2012 flavoured!) Live Review: Band of Skulls with We Are Augustines at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 24th March 2012

By on Monday, 2nd April 2012 at 2:05 pm

“We’ve waited a long time for this,” said a grinning, Russell Marsden, the long-haired, don’t take crap from no-one guitarist of Band of Skulls. He was probably referring to them finally headlining a show in Washington (my friends have advised me that they have played in DC before, supporting Metric – you work that one out), but equally as momentous for the Southampton band was selling out the venerable 9:30 Club for what was sure to be a Saturday night to remember.

Even support band We are Augustines realised the gravity of the situtation: frontman Billy McCarthy quipped, “this is a rock ‘n’ roll town…I was listening to Fugazi earlier…” Any mention of the hometown heroes, really the most famous fixture of the original 9:30 Club and not at this updated location, is sure to elicit the right kind of reaction in DC. Being from Brooklyn, their album had already been released last summer here in America, but as you all know, it’s only been recently released in Britain.

I’m positive that a good portion of the audience were eager to see if they were any good live, just coming off their first American late night network appearance on Letterman (previous Live Gig Video here); this explains how the floor was already full before they went on: usually there is plenty of breathing room before the main act plays, because people wait until the headliner is due on before shuffling in. Despite being relatively new, song ‘Pumping Blood’ went down well, with its refrain of “as long as my heart keeps pumping blood” fitting very appropriately to raring to go crowd, fists in the air, as did their namesake song and less aggressive ‘Augustine’.

Despite its subject being our traditional sport enemy in hockey, ‘Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love)’, with the Augustines’ trademark heavy beats and guitars, was another highlight. Being a support band, you knew they wouldn’t play an encore, so my heart just about dropped when they neared the end of their set and McCarthy announced, “this will be our last song”, when they hadn’t bust out their British radio hit yet. I had missed them in Austin and was about to start wailing, “shaking like a leaf”. Just about. And then they broke out with ‘Chapel Song’, so I forgave them. But only partially. Maybe it was the sound system at 9:30 that night, but I was kind of disappointed in their hit single; maybe it was because I had built them up so much live in my mind, so much that I was looking forward to them more than the headliners themselves? Not sure.

If you recall, I caught Band of Skulls as the third of five acts at the Showdown on Cedar Street at SXSW being sponsored by Filter Magazine and American Rag. I had been given the opportunity to see both bands at a regular gig on my first night in Austin but I thought I’d be able to give it better attention if it was after I returned home. Picture the Skulls in your mind on stage at Cedar Street Courtyard: clad all in black and hair flying every which way, playing their hearts out, while the Texan suns beats down on them. A little weird, you might say. And you’d be right. So under ‘normal’ club lighting, they seemed back in their element and also genuinely glad to be performing on front of a sold-out crowd.

At first, I had some reservations going to this show: being a single woman and going alone, I was expecting to be surrounded by tough guys who own Harleys. Much to be surprise and delight, this show (unlike so many in DC) was age, color and gender blind, as people of all walks of life shook their bodies, banged their heads and reveled in the hard rock being played before them. Even more surprising to me were how many people knew Band of Skulls’ old material; with our rock stations here not giving play to any indie rock bands until they’ve won a Grammy (Mumford and Sons, Phoenix) or gotten big in the UK first (the Naked and Famous), watching people singing along – loudly and emphatically – was a shocking sight.

‘Sweet Sour’ started the night off right, allowing both Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson to sing in harmony. Or maybe the operative word should be ‘yell’? ‘Bruises’, another track from the new album, was another crowd pleaser, telling me that for sure most everyone present already had the latest album. (Here’s to hoping they all paid for it…) I come from the school of Led Zeppelin, so I will scrutinise and compare any band who dares to be as ‘hard rock’ as them. I have to say, I’m converted. ‘The Devil Takes Care of His Own’, which was great even in daylight at SXSW, charmed me as a down and dirty number, with a sexy as heck chorus. Holy moly.

Drummer Patrick Carney of the Black Keys were famously quoted saying, “rock ‘n’ roll is dying because people became okay with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world”. One look – or perhaps one listen – of Band of Skulls and it’s clear that even though there is never going to be another Led Zeppelin, this band from Southampton will be the Led Zeppelin for the iPod generation.

After the cut: set list.

Band of Skulls Set List:

Sweet Sour
Cold Fame
Lay My Head Down
Hollywood Bowl
I Know What I Am
You’re Not Pretty but You Got It Goin’ On
Light of the Morning
Death by Diamonds and Pearls
The Devil Takes Care of His Own

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