You would have thought that ex-pats got a grander welcoming than this. Despite forming in Sydney, Howling Bells' relocation to London meant that The Standard felt more like it was hosting the strangest of homecomings than an intimate gig. Like that brother who has moved in with the girl Mum does not approve of but has invited her over for Christmas dinner anyway. Not that anyone dared ask why they left in the first place (seriously though, why?). It's almost as if the city they called home is ready to welcome them back with open arms yet, as frontwoman and tempting songstress Juanita Stein observed, the room had a reverent hush over it early on.
Awkward starts aside they were hasty to promote their latest album, The Loudest Engine and strolled into the long-players opener, the inviting 'Charlatan.' For an audience who have barely had a chance to digest the brand new offerings, 'The Wilderness' continued to demand attention. Though if you could forgo the fresh spots on their setlist then you could not fail to ignore Stein as she ditched her guitar to shimmy in the limelight for 'Secrets.' The girl smouldered onstage with a repertoire of winsome glints and a warming, captivating vigour. Less about the looks though and her smooth vocals contorted 'A Ballad For The Bleeding Hearts' into mesmerising shapes.
While Stein stole the eyes of the room she had ample backing for 'Cities Burning Down' as the track took off to chugging then whirring guitar from her brother, and lead guitarist, Joel. 'Setting Sun' pushed the bar even further with an exultant chorus and riffs that seemed to reverberate around the room before infiltrating your head.
Of all the tracks from The Loudest Engine it was 'The Faith' that impressed the most. While others drew you in, this one grabbed you and did not let go. Tangible interchanges occurred with rollocking drums taking its turn alongside exuberant, almost cheeky guitar while Stein's vocals bound the whole thing together. 'Blessed Night' had the same effect yet a final crashing refrain brought the house down.
After the shortest of breaks the room was still echoing for their encore. Yet for all the controlled restraint when they needed to be brash, 'Low Happening' delivered with seering guitar riffs embellished by Stein's vocals caressing every syllable. If only they returned home for good.
I was at this gig, and in my opinion it was the best they've ever sounded in my opinion. Interestingly, they didn't play anything from Radio Wars (apart from Cities Burning Down, which was in existence when they released their debut anyway)
All in all, a great band performing at their peak, yet still not attracting the masses in their old home town!
"Patience is all you need, that and the courage it takes just to be."