Skinny Lister’s Shanty Punk Elicits Ecstatic Abandon At Underground Arts REVIEW+PHOTOS: SKINNY LISTER @ UNDERGROUND ARTS 3/11/18
PHILADELPHIA, PA- “Shanty punk” is a rather specialized sort of music, one that conjures up images of pirate ships or drunken nights in English pubs. Skinny Lister’s music wouldn’t be out of place in either setting. A six-piece band comprised of Dan Heptinstall (guitar and vocals), Lorna Thomas (vocals), Sam “Mule” Brace (guitar), Max Thomas (accordion and mandolin), Scott Milsom (upright bass), and Thom Mills (drums), they look every inch the disheveled punk rockers, all floppy mohawks, skinny jeans, and tattoos. Lorna, in her sweet floral dress and red Mary Janes, is an exception, but her outward appearance of girlish innocence is belied as soon as she stands behind a microphone, a flagon of rum in her hand, a devilish glint in her eye.
Having emerged on the stage, the band wasted no time before launching into “Wanted,” from their 2016 release The Devil, The Heart, The Fight, the frenetic energy of the song acting as a precursor for things to come. Outside the dark walls of the venue, the world prepared for another work week, but inside, it could have been a raucous Friday night in London. Songs from all three of their albums made appearances, one familiar anthem leading into another, and the crowd, thin but exuberant, responded heartily. In keeping with the sentiment of the night, attendees were the picture of polite frivolity, basking in the joy the band was providing while taking care to not impede the fun of others around them. Like Will Varley earlier in the evening, Dan marveled at this, and in gratitude, the band treated the audience to a new, unreleased song entitled “Cause.”
The brief occasions they came down from their frenzied playing, catching their breath on a handful of ballads, allowed Lorna to shine. Dan’s distinctive nasal snarl may be the voice of Skinny Lister, but Lorna is undeniably the frontwoman, a fact which is laid plain by the placement of her microphone in the middle of the stage. During one song, when her vocal services weren’t needed, she hopped down off the stage and plunged into the middle of the crowd, dancing and drinking her way around the room. When she emerged back on stage at the song’s end, she said that she almost wanted to stay on the floor with the rest of the concertgoers, but admitted with an impish smile that she was too much of a showoff. Her willowy voice buoys the lovely wistfulness of “Colours,” an ode to brief English summers, and with “Devil In Me,” the standout track that she introduced by saying that she fulfilled a bucket list wish by smashing a car with a sledgehammer for the video, she finds the balance between delicate and powerful, an aural compliment to the song’s theme of revenge.
Though the eye was drawn to Lorna throughout the show, the other band members poured their blood, sweat, and tears (sometimes literally) into the performance as well. By the end of the night, Dan had stripped down to an undershirt, and Max’s shaggy blonde hair was drenched in sweat. Thom was sporting the early stages of a shiner from an on-stage injury suffered a couple nights earlier, a fact which Dan pointed out prior to dedicating “Injuries” to the injured drummer. But through it all, that sense of ecstatic abandon permeated the room – the band had fun, and the audience couldn’t help but have fun in response. People who had never listened to Skinny Lister before that evening found themselves shouting “Too rye ay!” as Mule led the sea chanty “John Kanaka.” There was dancing, drinking, and good-natured carousing, and if that’s the ultimate point of shanty punk, Skinny Lister achieved it in spades. When the house lights came on after the band took their bow, that sense of amity and merriment remained. People filed into the streets, some with arms still slung around each other, singing along to the ghosts of the songs they’d just heard, melting into the cold Philly darkness and sending even more goodwill out into the City of Brotherly Love.