with The Hung Ups
Cobra Skulls. The very name is the kind of stuff that the dreams of testosterone-fueled six-year-olds are made of. The logo (appropriately, a skull being encircled by the mighty jaws of a cobra) would make a fine temporary tattoo or an excellent illustration on the cover of a ninth grader’s algebra notebook. To put it bluntly, Cobra Skulls--their name, logo, music and everything they entail--are completely bad ass. Hints of psychobilly, reggae, country, ska and good ol’ rock n’ roll all influence their music, but Cobra Skulls play pure punk rock that is smart enough not to take itself too seriously. Despite their tendency to play Salt Lake three or more times a year, I haven’t seen these guys since a 2007 show (their first in Utah) at the long-gone Monk’s House of Jazz where they played to an audience of five. If you couldn’t tell from the semi-ridiculous sentences you read above, I was pretty excited to finally see Cobra Skulls again.
When I arrived at Kilby Court, I was pleased to see quite a few cars parked outside of the venue. The band has amassed quite a following over the past few years, recently signing to Fat Wreck Chords, so I hoped that their constant touring through Salt Lake had earned them a strong following over the past three years. I entered the venue and about thirty other people were watching local openers The Hung Ups finish up their set of Screeching Weasel inspired pop punk. Well, thirty is a pretty good crowd for a punk show at Kilby at least. As Cobra Skulls loaded their gear into the venue, it was pretty clear that they were a bit bummed by the relatively low turnout--understandble, especially considering I’ve heard nothing but good things from people who saw them open for Dead to Me and Peelander-Z in Salt Lake in the past year (people who weren’t at this show, it should be noted). Adding even more to the bummer level, frontman Devin’s bass wasn’t cooperating and the band didn’t start playing until about 45 minutes after the openers left the stage.
As the soundcheck began, the room filled, and it was clear that at least a dozen more people had arrived. The band opened with “Never Be a Machine” from their 2008 7” of the same name, and a small contingent of the crowd proceeded to get nuts. The true craziness started when the band followed that up with “The Cobra and the Man-Whore” and a small mosh pit broke out and more of the crowd was visibly singing along. A few more technical issues arose, but from the second song on, the band and the crowd were equally into the show, even if only those at the front of the room were giving the band the kind of interaction they deserved. The band kept two setlists, resulting in a set that didn’t have much of a consistent flow, but they played nearly every single song that overzealous concert attendees shouted at them.
Highlights of the set included “Streets of Cairo” and “Cobra Skulls Jukebox” from their first album Sitting Army and the overly angry “Ode to Jefferson” from their Draw Muhammad EP, but the songs from their most recent album American Rubicon went over the best with the crowd. “HDUI,” “Overpopulated” and “Thicker than Water” got the crowd singing along in earnest, and the band even dedicated their straight edge anti-anthem “Bad Apples” to Salt Lake--not that our city has a history of unreasonable violence perpetrated by straight edgers or anything. The band also busted out their excellent cover of Bad Religion’s “Give You Nothing” and a really awesome song called “Hot Sand” that I would best describe as having a desert-ska feel. After 15 or so songs, the band unplugged, but the crowd didn’t move, so they indulged us and played four more, ending with “Cobra Skulls Lockdown.”
In the end, Cobra Skulls played for about an hour, blasting through nearly twenty songs and playing nearly everything I wanted to hear--no “Hasta Los Cobra Skulls Siempre!” and no “One Day I Never” (though they promised to play it if someone could provide them a piano), but I’m not complaining. The thing that I enjoyed the most about the show was the noticeable change in attitude the band experienced about three songs into the set. They seemed a little less than enthused to be there at the beginning of the set, but by the halfway mark they were joking with the audience, entertaining requests and just having a blast with those of us that came out to see them. If that kind of behavior isn’t befitting of a band with a name/logo/attitude as bad-ass as Cobra Skulls, I don’t know what is.