Great to finally meet you too Matt. It's good to put faces to names. :-) Really enjoyed the show last night and met the band again after the show. They are really friendly and I got some good photo's with them too. :-)
Are you going to Joy Formidable next month in manchester? I may see you there.
It's been five years since the bells tolled to announce the eponymous album of this Australian gang of four.
Then, the NME swooned over the country-gothic tinged mix of the London-based band, impressed by the cinematic qualities of a record which oozed darkness and light, moodiness and melody.
Three years later the tone changed and the snipers were out in numbers for the lighter and spacier Radio Wars which metaphorically bombed at the box office, failing to make the waves promised by their debut.
Howling Bells appeared to have got the message as only Cities Burning Down from Radio Wars got an airing during the band's performance at The Cockpit's second room.
It's the fourth leg of a low-key six-date UK tour to plug their third offering The Loudest Engine - produced by The Killers bassist Mark Stoermer - which is pitched by lead singer Juanita Stein as "a modern psychedelic record - our grown up record".
The album's mature opener, Charlatan, gets the night off to a dull start but it picks up with the swampier Blessed Night, brought to life by Joel Stein's gothy guitar riff. The atmosphere stays dark for Cities, but bassist Brendan Picchio, now looking more like Alex James than Alex James, isn't happy as he ticks off the sound man for a monitor which is "talking shit the whole time".
The band moves into the wonderfully trippy Setting Sun, probably their best song although not necessarily the strongest live and which is slightly off key tonight. Juanita gives the audience a few flowy half-hearted hand movements on Secrets - the start of five songs from the new album - which is followed by the impressive Sioux, an Alanis Morrisette-ish song hitching a ride with All About Eve.
More monitor problems and Alex, sorry Brendan, is getting annoyed but Juanita cools things down with talk of love being in the room and a strong rendition of The Faith - one of the best songs from the set.
Stein pays her odd homage to Kate Bush in Gold Suns, White Guns, which starts messily but starts to motor until the car stalls with the wooden Loudest Engine. The ignition may have failed there, but the sparks return on a Ballard for the Bleeding Hearts, country mixed with spaghetti western around a lonesome camp fire.
Broken Bones goes down a storm and Juanita cannot resist telling us we are the "****ing coolest crowd of the tour". Her eyesight clearly isn't as good as her singing judging by a few amongst the throng! New single Into the Sky, both harmonious and discordant, is a belter and we get the big finish with The Wilderness - a cliched climax as Juanita leaves the stage to leave the rest for one of those pointless jam that are just so... fruitless.
They make up for it in the encore with a great version of the stand-out Low Happening and polish the evening off with the poppy Live On, the accomplished Joel extracting an echoing keyboard sound from a guitar that has dominated a really decent set.
And the support acts didn't disappoint us either. First up were Laboratory Noise, a local seven-piece that trawl the universe with their shoe-gazing brand of psychedelic space rock. Paul McNulty and Kerry Ramsay may not have the strongest voices, the light show could have been better and they may have one guitarist too many but they have an ear for a tune all brought together by the synths of Adam Watson. Their debut album When Sound Generates Light (great name) is definitely worth checking out.
But the voice of the night and surely one for the future belonged to Canadian Al Spx, the alter-ego of her London-based band Cold Specks (her name is actually Al Specks which is surely better than the contrived Spx). Possessing a voice more Deep South than Toronto she held us enthralled with a sound she describes as doom soul. She informs us she has nothing to sell, although melancholic single Holland is being released on October 17. Spx starts her set by filling in for her absent drummer while holding an acoustic guitar (something the other guitarist and cellist have to do later on) and finishes with the spine-chillingly haunting Steady which reaches a fantastic crescendo. Go and see them.
Howling Bells // The Cockpit[/center] Off to the Cockpit I go, having never heard of any of the bands on the line up, (don’t shoot me just yet!). I enter the middle room of the Cockpit to find it decked out with hanging baubles at the rear of the stage and ceiling projections. The crowd is incredibly diverse, from the old guys with silver hair, to a pair of metallers and the obvious under 18s, who stand chattering excitedly away drinking their cans of Coca cola, as well as the usual Indie crowd.
First up is Laboratory noise. Having worked in a laboratory, I’m eager to hear these guys interpretation of what a lab would sound like. Despite an initial technical glitch, the seven piece band create a real mood driven set, with the four guitarists in the band blending together to create some really stunning ascending tunes. By the second song, a guy in the crowd is going all Bez and it seems the band have won already. I don’t know if it’s because he was sat closer to the front than usual, due to the Howling Bells kit taking up the rest of the stage, but it felt the drummer was the star of the band. He hammered the hell out of the kit and looked to be really enjoying himself. The crowd seemed to gain in numbers closer to the end of the set, which is a shame, but from what I heard and the looks on peoples’ faces, they’ll definitely be checking them out again.
Time passes quickly and we’re straight into band number two. Cold Specks have me guessing as soon as a cello is produced on stage. What to expect: classical Indie fusion? Hardcore string based acoustic rock? I wait eagerly as the other members of the band take the stage for a totally seated gig. Hitting you straight in the chest with a one armed pound on a bass drum is lead vocalist, guitarist Al Spx. When the vocals kick in, it’s like someone is caressing your soul with a lump hammer. The best way I can define the sound is gospel music, with it’s inspiration in our modern gloomy times. It feels as though the band are really creating something greater than the sum of it’s parts, with the male cellist’s rising vocals combining perfectly with Al’s deep and meaning laden lyrics. Overheard comments of ‘That was ****ing brilliant’, should not be discarded. This band sound like the real deal and are defiantly worth checking out if you get the chance.
The crowd makes a noticeable move to the stage, in anticipation for tonight’s headline act. With a new album to promote, Howling Bells are going to be aiming to impress with some new unheard material as well as some older tracks. The backdrop is fully lit and multi-coloured fairy lights are added to the amps creating a magical atmosphere. The band receive rapturous applause as they take the stage.
Howling Bells are the most stripped down band of the evening, with three guitars and a drummer making for a change in direction from the more all-encompassing sound generated by the support. The music is defiantly dark but not hopeless, it revels in it’s obscurity and an occasional deep sense of foreboding emanates from the stage, only to be replaced with jangley guitars that bring you back from the precipice.
Juanita proves she’s not just a pretty lass with a guitar, as she trips into every chord with skill, feeling and fury. Later she dances around the stage with her tambourine in an almost sinister manner, as though she were trying to raise the dead. Juanita encourages the rest of the band to give more and they deliver, responding with frantic energetic scuzziness on guitars and some excellent atmospheric drumming.
There’s a hand full of tracks from their self-titled debut in the set, but second album ‘Radio Wars’, is almost completely ignored with only ‘Cities burning down’, getting an airing. The majority of the music is sourced from the Howling Bells’ as yet unreleased album, ‘The Loudest Engine’. It’s a brave move by Howling Bells to play mostly new and unheard material, but they’re among fans tonight and are greeted with real excitement with feet shuffling across the floor. It’s not quite a rave-up but hearing this music live defiantly gets you moving.
After the main set, Howling Bells only seem to take 2 minutes to catch their breath before returning for the obligatory encore. ‘Low happening’, gets the biggest crowd response of the night, with some crazed jumping going down at the rear of the room, before closing with ‘Live on’. A shout out that they’ll be hanging around the merch stall ends the gig and it’s good to know the Howling Bells are still keen to properly mix with the fans, who helped get them to where they are today.
Howling Bells show of attitude, coupled with real musicianship make them more than your average female fronted band, if you haven’t already, get the Howling Bells on your to see list, you won’t be disappointed.