Text: Event Date: March 3, 2009 Event Venue: Fleece, Bristol
Straight after the release of their new album, Radio Wars, Howling Bells played to a sell-out crowd at the Fleece on the first night of their tour.
I didn't have much chance to listen to their new album before I went, but based on tonight's gig, their distinctive bluesy sound has been considerably lightened-up with the addition of a synth. This change will probably give them more mainstream appeal, but their new songs lack the delicious darkness of their debut efforts.
Nevertheless, Juanita's vocals were strong as ever, and the band still manage to produce a sound that's both raw and rich. If you're a fan, be prepared for something different from this tour, and if you're new to the band, then they're definitely worth seeing.
Text: Howling Bells, The Joy Formidable O2 Academy, Oxford 05/03/09 Oh Howling Bells, how we missed you! A whole three years has passed since the birth of their remarkable debut, its tunes making an indelible imprint on music critics' minds.
The last time the Antipodean quartet were in Oxford – at the tail end of last year - they were supporting psychedelic pop outfit Mercury Rev. Now back with album number two in hand, tonight they headline the poky upstairs of the 02 Academy – not quite in the realms of Wembley Arena but a step in the right direction.
Beforehand, support act The Joy Formidable display a real chemistry on stage – understandable when you realise they're a band which blossomed from the blossoming of a relationship between schoolfriends Ritzy on lead vocals and bassist Rhydian Dafydd. The tight trio also make a connection with the audience though with Ritzy's squally, sonorous guitar riffs and stunning part Björk-part PJ Harveyesque vocals interplaying with clamorous bass and drums.
It's the kind of music that does what it says on the tin if what it says on the tin is mid nineties female fronted indie band in the style of Echobelly mixed with Smashing Pumpkins. Both joyous and formidable, this is a trio to keep an eye out for.
Against a simplistic backdrop detailing the Howling Bells' new album cover – four coloured squares - the male contingent of the band then saunter on. Trailing behind, front-woman Juanita Stein, dressed in a checked dress and skin-tight black bottoms, takes centre stage, immediately launching into new track Radio Wars Theme with an all-out attack on a sole drum before her.
The synth-driven track marks a distinct shift in direction towards a more radio-friendly yet increasingly widescreen sound from a group already known for their vast tunes emblematic of the arid sun-baked landscapes of their mother country. New yarn of lost love ‘Treasure Hunt’ follows as Juanita croons over machine gun beats in her haunting vocals reminiscent of The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler about 'marching backwards and forwards', duly shuffling back and forth and making serpentine-like motions with her arms. Their knack for building songs to a climatic conclusion is particularly evident on the brooding first album track ‘Blessed Night’, unfurled here in all its glory, with its gargantuan guitar riffs.
Scantily-clad women slipping through the necks of oversize champagne glasses or resting seductively on the barrel of a giant gun is all that's missing from the spell-bindingly cinematic ‘Nightingale’, Juanita lulling the audience into submission as she invites them to 'sing a melody'.
The singer adopts a country and western drawl in the vein of Dolly Parton on oldie ‘Broken Bones’, one of the tunes given a greater reception from a relatively subdued audience.
“Oh Oxford, give us some noise, give us some love, something for ****’s sake”, pleads Juanita, after the sublime ‘Into The Chaos’, with its lush strings and uplifting multi-harmonied chorus. She’s visibly frustrated at their failure to lift the largely passive crowd.
A shame as their latest work is clearly the hard-earnt fruits of their labour but perhaps, given time, the new material will win over hearts and minds.
Howling Bells/Future Of The Left/The Joy Formidable - Cluny, Newcastle by Adam Chapman
In times when it seems like anybody with more than seven ‘friends’ on Myspace is afforded a headlining UK tour, it’s becoming more and more of a rarity to come across a gig where you’re at least interested in the support acts.
Imagine our happiness then, when the looming shadow of corporatism for once worked for the forces of good, and the nice people at Jack Daniels provided us with three of our favourite bands; the Joy Formidable, Future Of The Left and Howling Bells, on the same bill, at one of our favourite venues, the Cluny.
First up are dreamy noise-pop trio the Joy Formidable, an undoubted one to watch in 2009. Boyfriend and girlfriend combo Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd channel their intimacy, a la the White Stripes and the Kills, in between Bryan smashing her guitar around the place like a woman possessed - her face a glazed, glacial expression somewhere near Joe Strummer’s mixture of sardonicism and fervour.
Opening with the synth loops of The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade, the band lull some of the audience into a false sense of security with it’s poppier elements, before launching through much of debut album A Balloon Called Moaning with all of its glorious, hook-laden noise intact.
Next, Welsh punks Future Of The Left crank things up another notch, their off-the-wall riot-rock not received as well as it should be, a fact not lost on frontman Andy Falkous, who suggests the crowd are worried by the presence of myriad television cameras for the gig’s Channel Four broadcast.
Nevertheless, the set is excellent, featuring the mainstays of 2007’s Curses album as well as new single The Hope That House Built, with exuberant bassist Kelson Mathias ending their performance on the gantry reserved for the aforementioned cameras - a good 15 yards from his position on stage.
The quieter elements of the crowd were most likely there for the headliners, Australian indie-rockers Howling Bells, who released their second album Radio Wars to mixed reviews in February.
After the critical acclaim lauded upon their self-titled debut, it’s hard not to see the follow-up as a step backwards. That appears underscored tonight by the fact that the standout tracks in an admittedly polished set are the favourites from the first record. Easy-on-the-eye vocalist Juanita Stein is her usual amiable self and the band are as confident as ever, but it’s all a little too Radio Two; especially after the breakneck balls-to-the-wall offerings of the previous two acts.
Overall though, tonight was a brilliant evening, which was at the very least enjoyable from start to finish. TMM is back at the Cluny a day later, again to see three acts worthy of our attention. Hopefully this is going to become a recurring theme…
CLASSIC GRAND, GLASGOW "I WAS having a bad day today," notes Howling Bells's charmingly brooding singer Juanita Stein, "but you guys are really giving me great energy." In this comment lies proof of the London-based quartet's Australian origins; and Howling Bells are very definitely an Aussie band, managing to sound like sullen rockers, folk-playing hippies and pouting electro poseurs within the space of one song.
They've got the look down anyway, with the three boys in the background (including Stein's brother Joel) just pinch-cheeked and healthy-looking enough to hold their own to the rear of the publicity shots.
Stein is the star of the Howling Bells roadshow, though – her severe, jet-black fringed bob and sparkling aqua-sequinned top sucking up all the attention under the cool blue stage lights. Her voice is a folky trill and then a sexual growl; precisely the same combination that works so well for PJ Harvey.
Yet, disappointingly, Howling Bells are merely an OK band. Their reference points are strong, with countrymen like Nick Cave's Bad Seeds and the Go-Betweens evoked throughout songs like Broken Bones, Low Happening and Cities Burning Down. But this is a rather safe collection of tracks, better suited to soundtracking American teen dramas than dark nights of the soul.
Which is all well and good, but when Stein, feeling that energy now, invites us to dance to a new song, featuring a bit of mid-tempo electro keyboard over the same MOR rock background, you feel she might have misinterpreted the variety her band are capable of.
Text: Howling Bells, Classic Grand, Glasgow Star rating: ****
IT is not uncommon for bands to dramatically shift their musical direction. Thus, the gothic pop and country rock of Howling Bells' sublime debut album has given way to a more synthesiser driven approach on the recently released follow-up, Radio Wars. Thankfully, what has not altered is the quality of their live work.
Drawing heavily on Radio Wars, the Australian quartet showed enough to suggest they are not suffering from a changed style. The main reason for this is that frontwoman Juanita Stein's voice remains a superb tool, capable of sounding sultry yet tender, a femme fatale yet fragile.
Although the lyrics often focus on doomed romance, Stein is an engagingly cheerful presence, thanking the audience for lifting her spirits, dancing constantly and strolling through the crowd on, ironically, the evening's weakest number, Golden Web, a song that pushed the group too far down the synth road and bypassed any sort of tune on the way.
Thankfully, that was a one-off diversion. Of the few older tracks played Setting Sun showcased the band's more epic guitar pop, a side that wasn't a million miles away from Coldplay's ilk.
But the evening belonged to the new songs, which mainly rippled with power in a live setting. Into The Chaos brought to mind The Killers if they'd listened to Nick Cave instead of New Order, and the slow-building Nightingale made full use of Juanita's brother Joel's spidery guitar playing. Cities Burning Down was even more brooding, strengthened by Glenn Moule's exemplary, ominous drum beats.
A brief one-song encore followed with the venue's lights dimmed before the group disappeared into the dark, but the brightness of the show could not be diminished.
Text: Music: Howling Bells @ Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms Mark Murphy
Sharp cheekbones and sharper tunes rock Portsmouth
‘The best looking Australian import since Ramsey Street’ may be something of understatement as Howling Bells take to the stage to promote their second album Radio Wars.
The frenetic foursome wasted no time dragging a somewhat reserved midweek crowd into high gear, eager to fulfil the handful of committed enthusiasts who were falling over each other to get closer to petite yet persuasive lead singer Juanita Stein.
With a frontwoman as confident as she is hypnotic, Howling Bells display a character edgier then their other indie-rock contemporaries. The blend of powerful, profound performance that peaks with ambient soulful harmonies can be best described as Metric meets the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs - a combination that memorises and compels this audience. The crowd, meanwhile, are suddenly and unblinkingly absorbing this tentative mix.
With their debut album gaining widespread critical acclaim, Howling Bells seem more than keen to prove themselves again. With their unique formula, it’s not hard - although, conveniently for the audience, it’s best tasted live rather then on record.
Tonight, despite a drummer apparently battling with locally sourced food poisoning, their performance dominated and infused the atmosphere of the relatively intimate venue - even if it was out of pure defiance!
Howling Bells as a live band deliver a genuine sound and a genuine performance, and they revelled in their set as much as their most enthusiastic supporters did. Let’s hope this magic continues, sparking a contagious enthusiasm for the rest of the tour, as it’s only a matter of time before we all catch it...
Text: The Joy Formidable, The Howling Bells, Two Skies Sheffield Plug, 14th March 2009 Luke Hannaford
You’d expect Two Skies to be in with their native Sheffield indie scene. Lead singer, Dan, gave it his best vocally with Stars for Icarus. I think they can improve but they are worth a listen. The Magi, are another small band from Sheffield - not sure what was going on here as soon as they appeared on the stage the crowd were booing them off! I think the crowd were right as none of their songs stood out to me. Instead I just popped off for a quick drink.
The Joy Formidable were a highly anticipated band of the night. People in the crowd were amazed to see lead vocalist Ritzy appear on stage in the flesh! They have had quite a lot of media attention since playing at Latitude festival last year, and they even gave their album away for free as download. TJF are originally from Wales but are now based in London. There have been quite a lot of bands from Wales hitting the spotlights but TJF have really shown their colours. Or maybe it’s Ritzy’s beady eyes enticing everyone to like their music? Nevertheless the crowd were buzzing as TJF played their first set, wow! Seriously this has to be one of the best bands of 2009! And it wasn’t down to the other bands being poor in performance making TJF sound good. Howling Bells were the main act but TJF certainly stole the night for me. At one point it felt like I was watching Alice in Wonderland but with guitars - the clothes Ritzy was wearing reminded me of the film. Hearing Cradle live was definitely the best moment of the night as it had the crowd singing along whereas with the previous bands, the crowd didn’t really join in.
Howling Bells were up next but could they win back the audience after such a compelling performance from TJF? Lead singer Juanita Stein came on to the stage appearing as if she had just got out of bed wearing only a shirt. Introducing themselves and thanking TJF for supporting them, Juanita Stein announced that TJF were ‘Totally Rad’. Juanita said that she usually comes into the crowd to play a song and everyone was quite stunned as she hopped down from the stage with the mic and came around the barrier starting to sing in with the crowd. I really enjoyed listening to ‘Into the Chaos’ and ‘Cities Burning Down’. I wouldn’t say they were indie pop but more ambient soul with Juanita’s vocals. They definitely changed the mood of the night after an exhilarating performance by TJF. Overall they played a good set and were pleasing to hear live.