The UK-based band, who played on and co-wrote Jeff Beck’s last album, impressed fans and producers alike at their showcase gig in NYC
It was a Thursday night at the Ludlow House on New York’s Lower East Side and an important test for the London-based band Bones who were playing a sold-out showcase gig. If you haven’t heard of Bones, the group is comprised of lead vocalist / rhythm guitarist Rosie Bones, lead guitarist Carmen Vandenberg, and drummer Heavy. Rosie and Carmen first ran into one another at the Blues Kitchen in Camden Town, London and formed the band in 2014. Since then, they have toured the world. Last year, the duo co-wrote, with Jeff Beck, the songs on Loud Hailer, the guitarist’s eleventh solo album. Bones and Vandenberg also played on the album and then, embarked on a U.S. tour with Beck.
“We think that scars are amazing and abnormalities are what makes us incredible!” Rosie Bones declared as the hauntingly distorted intro to their latest single “Beautiful is Boring’ reverberated throughout the audience.
Now, here they were, on their own at a New York showcase. Rosie, clad in dark grey coveralls and black docs, approached each song with a confident ‘like it or leave it’ attitude, and performed a handful of singles including “Electric”, “Pretty Waste” and “Tears”. Her raspy yet seductive voice combined with the bluesy notes emitted from Carmen’s Telecaster, creating a unique style of music that can’t be pigeonholed into one genre. It’s fair to say that their songs are a conglomeration, gathered from Carmen’s love of the blues, their musical roots which lie in London, and the distorted guitar licks that are included in a number of their songs.
After performing several numbers that hyped up the crowd, Rosie sang a slow number called ‘Black Blood’. Her voice, now smoother and demure, silenced the audience. At one point I glanced at the people on either side of me. Their eyes were fixed on the lead singer, hanging on her last words: “‘Cause I like it on my own, slowly turning into stone. You know it’s not cool to be happy.”
Toward the end of their set, Rosie and Carmen paused to tune their guitars, the lead singer glancing at her audience with a playful yet defiant look in her dark eyes.
“So there was this bloke from Camden Town in London,” she began. “He came up to us after the show, and he said he fucking loved it! He thought it was one of the best gigs he’d ever seen. We blew his fucking mind out! However…” The audience’s curiosity was piqued as Carmen picked a few bluesy notes off her guitar. “He said that no matter how good our band would ever be, we would never ever ever be as good as his band, because girls can’t play guitars as well as boys. He said it was biologically impossible ‘cause we’ve got smaller hands! I for one have very large hands, so…but enough about me. So we wrote that motherfucker a song. We’d like to dedicate it to that guy in Camden Town who’s still in Camden Town who will still be in Camden Town till the day that man dies, and we, however, get to come and hang out with you lot in New York City! So I think we all know who won that one. This, NYC, is “Girls Can’t Play Guitar.”
With that statement, Carmen launched into an amped up intro reminiscent of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” that blew the audience away. Not only does Carmen play like a seasoned blues player, she has the stage presence as well. With every riff from her guitar, she appeared to lean back slightly, her eyes nearly closed as if each chord was resonating through her body. Her presence reminded me very much of Eric Clapton or Muddy Waters in the midst of a guitar solo. Completely lost in the music.
Bones – ‘Girls Can’t Play Guitar’ live, 2016
For their final song “Pretty Waste” Rosie walked off the stage and into the audience. Now on her knees, she threw her head back as she belted out the lyrics “I’m too cheap for you to own me, no one ever could. Will you want me when I’m old and dead?” As the song ended, the final chords echoing from their guitars, the audience called out for an encore, cheering the band on as they cleared the stage for the following act.
That evening, as the band dispersed into the crowd of fans and awaiting producers, I couldn’t help but think that Rosie, Carmen and Heavy have what it takes to play larger venues. Between Rosie’s killer vocals, Carmen’s guitar solos and Heavy’s drumming, they’re not only a band to look out for, but a band that will be undertaking new musical projects in the years to come.
So to those of you who still think that girls can’t play guitar, give Bones a listen. You’re about to be proven wrong.
When it comes to body positivity and addressing the sexist ideals of today, Bones have it in spades. In their latest music video “Beautiful is Boring” they defy the double standard, by creating a role reversal with an all-male audience.
Ludlow House Setlist, 11/2/17
- Beautiful is Boring
- Black Blood
- Girls Can’t Play Guitar
- Pretty Waste