California Blues

A needle in a steel wool haystack.

I was wasted, She was out of control.

Back in December, I opened my best Christmas present of the year: the doors to the Troubadour show for Band of Skulls. Back in September I saw them open for the Duke Spirit, and either they were badly mixed or I was deaf, dumb, and nearly blind not to notice how good they were. Luckily, the intervening months set me to rights.

Local rockers Red Cortez kick the show off. The wailing distorted guitars quickly bring to mind Kings of Leon and Coldplay. At least these guys are as good a mix as you can get of mopey distortion and angsty twangy ballads. Red Crotez doesn’t have as much spark as the lead singer seems to think, but they still win me over in a song. By the time they work a harmonica along with the words “Los Angeles, save me please,” I’m long since won over. A few songs later they complete their repertoire and exit the stage. All music and no show.

Up next are the slower and far more country The Street and Babe Shadow. The name easily endears them, as does the lap steel. Unfortunately, not a lot else works out for them tonight. Their easy-going, twangy pop doesn’t upset, but the fans are here to rock, and The Street and Babe Shadow don’t really pick it up off the bat. When they do, something is off and the sound isn’t coming together. Finally, near the end of the show the bassist breaks a string. They take a breather while Emma from Band of Skulls loans them a spare and when they finally kick off again, it’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and you’d be hard pressed to fuck that one up. The Street and Babe Shadow finish out their set with aplomb.

And that’s when the crowd appears from nowhere. The floor was practically empty all night, and KCRW took up most of the balcony to record the show. So, here I am, thinking it’ll be empty, even though it’s sold out. Nope. By the time Chris from KCRW introduces the band, it’s only a bit less crowded than the Florence and the Machine show. That’s when I find out that Band of Skulls has been in Los Angeles for the better part of a year, playing, writing, and recording. Sad I missed it, but glad I see the final show of the year.

‘Light of the Morning’ warms us up with its slow building guitar and its strong and solid drums. ‘I Know What I Am’ kicks the crowd off with the bopping-almost-repetitive-two-bit-inspirational mantra. ‘Death By Diamonds and Pearls’ calms it down and hits a solid groove, just so they can kick it up another four notches with ‘Patterns’. Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson rock out not two inches from each other. It’ll always amaze me how long, shaggy hair never gets caught up in the works. ‘Fires’ brings the crowd back to singing with this strong and solid ballad of broken hearts. Marsden introduces his friend’s guitar, which looks surprisingly like his own, for ‘Cold Fame’. ‘Friends’ catches the crowd unawares, only the die hard fans are aware of the track from the barely released New Moon Soundtrack. Thankfully, it’s just as catchy as ‘I Know What I Am’ and maybe slightly more repetitive, so the crowd’s in full swing by the end of it. Marsden apologizes for not warning about the new song.

After a solid performance of ‘Bomb’, Richardson gets to claim her corner as center stage for ‘Blood’. The roaring cheer the first few bars elicit makes Emma blush, and full speed ahead they go. Have you ever seen a bass solo? Because I hadn’t, and Richardson’s was magnificent. They close the set with ‘Impossible’ and we’re cheering for an encore over the screeching guitar left onstage. Back out they come, not a minute after the roadie finally stops the screeching guitar. Matt Hayward sits behind the drums, but picks up an acoustic guitar: it’s time for ‘Honest’. And tonight, Band of Skulls pulls out a special treat, before the penultimate chorus, Hayward sets down the acoustic and picks up his sticks. They rock out the chorus with a special extended riff, and then bring us back down for the final acoustic verse. The last song of the night is the most city appropriate, ‘Hollywood Bowl,’ a song with six lines and a lot of synchronized yelling. Well, this crowd made it an experience to write home about. And here I am, writing somewhere about it. This song probably best encapsulates why Band of Skulls is as amazing as they are, the solid southern rock with an english twist sound, the dueling vocalists, the harmonizing vocalists, and the ability to lift an audience off its feet. Add to that a local familiarity and everyone goes home happy.

-11 Dec

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22 February 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

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