Band of Skulls @ Brixton Academy

Photo: Richard Gray

Undoubtedly Band of Skulls look the part. Pointy cowboy boots, check. Tight trousers, check. Leather jackets, beards, long hair. Then there’s the sound: pleasingly fuzzy, overdriven guitar; choppy, cut-up riffs; a twanging, bluesy air, and Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson’s dual vocals.

Opening with the slow, half-time riffing of the title track from this year’s album ‘Sweet Sour‘, the sound is dense, the stop-start guitars growing more growly with each verse until Russell takes his guitar off to rub up against the amp for a feedback-filled wig out, before leaping straight into the more considered but equally slow ‘Bruises’. The crowd are a sea of assertively nodding heads caught in the sweep of the stage lights during ‘Patterns’ from 2008’s debut album ‘Baby Darling Doll Face Honey‘, the vocalists calling out to each other and Marsden leading the crowd into singing the final verse: “A pattern, there’s a pattern/there’s a pattern there to follow” they sing. And they’re not wrong, as for track after track Band of Skulls’ set list rolls but never seems to rock. The three, muscular minutes of ‘Bomb’ and Matt Hayward’s clever, insistent drumming on ‘Wanderluster’ bring some needed bombast to a set that threatens to fall flat, but even that track interrupts itself to wallow in 32 bars of soft-spokenness, and is immediately followed by the long and directionless ‘Navigate’. The Skulls’ apparent requirement that each track have a breakdown (or two) creates drag that prevents things ever really taking off. It’s like the warm-up opening number that never gets beyond warm.

After 45 minutes it falls to ‘Hollywood Bowl‘ – the only track from their days as Fleeing New York still in rotation – to cause a stir. From here on they pick up the pace, from the clever rhythmic wordplay on ‘I Know What I Am‘ (“Flick flack/No slack/I got the wit that my enemies lack”) to the rock-out riffing of ‘You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On’ and ‘Death By Diamonds And Pearls’.

Such Americana-influenced blues-rock is a well trodden path, in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Dead Weather, Queens of the Stone Age or The Kings of Leon to name but a few. It is admirable that not every track on their albums sounds the same, but at the same time they sound too much like everyone else.

“We’re Band of Skulls from Southampton,” deadpans Marsden, to cheers from the band’s fervent front row fans who have long followed them around the country. These days they play big venues, the Reading Festival’s main stage, win over the SXSW crowd or embark on US tours, but there is still a humility that recognises how speedy their ‘Twilight’ and ‘Gossip Girl’ soundtrack-powered ascent has been from club circuit toil to being heralded as the latest saviour of rock and roll. The trio have worked hard for ten years to get here, but now they have, do they know what to do with it?

Food blogging for Zagat

I’ve been filling in for friends at the Zagat London food blog these last weeks, which means the opportunity to research some interesting restaurant and bar openings, and get paid for it, rather than just fall into the usual suspects (and get carried out).

In the process I managed to swing a visit to the opening night of fancy-pants contemporary Japanese restaurant Wabi in Holborn, and last night we even managed a visit to the hallowed members-only clubrooms of Electric House on Portobello Road in order to road-test the new Electric Diner’s Chicago-inspired meat, eggs and booze-heavy menu.

More to see over at the Zagat blog. There are, on reflection, worse ways to make a living.

Independent Record Market at Spitalfields

Among the interesting items on display was this ghettoblaster that plays 12″ records.
You’d struggle to carry it though, it weighs a ton – small child to scale.

Yesterday I wandered down to Spitalfields Market to visit the Independent Record Market, an occasional gathering of indies big and small (but mostly small) that meet there several times a year, last in August. At the were labels like Bella Union, Big Dada, Fierce Panda, Fire, Full Time Hobby, !K7, Laissez Faire Club, Monotreme, Moshi Moshi and Play It Again Sam alongside bigger indies like Ninja Tune, R&S, Planet Mu, One Little Indian and Peacefrog – with more labels setting up on the Sunday.

There was a large amount of vinyl on display, perhaps unsurprisingly as that’s what the sort of buyer-collectors that haunt record markets are looking for, and they would have been overjoyed by the selection of interesting items up for grabs rarities dragged from the vaults and special releases. And branded T-shirts, badges and mugs, of course. I’m now kicking myself for not picking up a nice R&S tee when I had the chance, to replace my veteran Joey Beltram Novamute t-shirt that was well loved but disappeared years ago (If any of my friends have that, but I’ve forgotten, I want it back by the way).

I interviewed a few of the stallholders and label bosses for Clashmusic to talk about how business was faring through 2012 and what prospects for the indies looked like for next year. Among them were Moshi Moshi’s Michael McClatchey, Bill Brewster of independent publishers (which released the hilarious Raving ’89 photostory of one man’s early days of acid house), Andy Bibey from One Little Indian, and Nigel Adams of Full Time Hobby.

You can hear the results at Clashmusic’s Soundcloud page.