Howling Bells / Inland Sea / Steve Smyth: Alhambra Lounge - Fri Dec 16[/center] In an unusual situation for the first support of the night, Steve Smyth manages to get a firmly Howling Bells-devoted crowd clapping along, joining in for some good old fashioned call-and-response and even being attentive during the quiet bits. Armed with only a guitar and a voice that can go low and guttural like Tom Waits or high and angelic like Jeff Buckley, Smyth performs a set of bleeding raw electric blues. Tour buddy Juanita Stein from Howling Bells joins him for a duet and when that same band’s drummer Glenn Moule thumps the skins for a couple of numbers, things get decidedly Black Keys-ish – which is far from a bad thing.
Next up, Inland Sea’s choral indie-folk keeps spirits up with five-part harmonies. All very earthy sounding with rollicking rhythms and cello, their craft is more subtle and therefore less immediately electrifying than the previous support. In any case, it’s a solid, occasionally even euphoric, set. One can understand the recent excitement expressed by English music inky NME.
Despite Howling Bells’ reputation as brooding indie rockers, there’s an almost country tinge to Juanita Stein’s vocals, particularly when she’s singing in the middle register – if she ever wanted to do a She & Him type project, she’d make a great Zooey to brother Joel’s M. Ward. Her sibling is not only a skilled and versatile guitarist, but his vocal harmony parts are sounding more confident than ever too. Opening with a soaring version of Charlatan from new album The Loudest Engine, Juanita’s vocals are in magnificent form, while moodier anthems such as Cities Burning Down and Setting Sun illustrate the group’s ability to make some of the finest atmospheric guitar rock out there. An effortlessly charismatic performance.