It’s become cliché to say that a band rocked the audience’s faces off, but maybe that’s why they’re called Band of Skulls. Because, they did.

There are good shows – it’s really hard to have a bad show at the Belly Up, really – and there are great shows, where the audience can feel every note and every word. The Southampton trio came in to town and played one of those shows; despite the band’s touring fourth member (who played mostly tambourine) Band of Skulls plays a straightforward rock show. You could hear and feel each note, whether it be Emma’s bass, Russell’s guitar, or Matt’s drums, and each word echoed and rang true in the venue.

The band mixed in some new tracks off of their current album, By Default, leading off with the title track, but ultimately playing only two other songs from the album – “Black Magic” and “So Good.” Instead, the band played a wide range of songs from the first three albums, ranging from the slow, brooding “Light of the Morning”  and audience favorite “Cold Fame” to the raucous “You’re Not Pretty But You’ve Got It Going On” and “Ten Men Dead, One Man Dying” in addition to ending with radio hits “Death By Diamonds and Pearls” and “I Know What I Am,” from the criminally underrated debut album Baby Darling Dollface Honey, which, if you haven’t listened to, please do so. Overall, the catalog is now too expansive to have a repeat of their between-Coachella set years ago where they played each song off of both of their first albums, but the selection for the sold-out show had something for everyone.

While the set list was great, it was exceeded by the band’s performance. As always, leading man Russell gave the audience everything he had, playing to the crowd and wandering the stage without it being pandering. Emma, often shy and quiet, got involved in some banter with the crowd and showed some personality. And, while San Diego crowds have sometimes shown themselves to be less than stellar, all those in attendance on Saturday deserve a commendation for actively listening, participating, keeping their phones in their pockets, and being a great, participatory audience, which certainly helped to make the show great.

Long story short – you should always see shows at Belly Up, but should make extra effort when it’s Band of Skulls.

By: David Israel