Continuing the retro theme of the gig ticket from October 2005, here I will post some reviews of early Howling Bells gigs, beginning with the earliest one I've found, from August 6th, 2005, at Club 77, King's Cross, Sydney:
Text: Wait a minute, it looks like Waikiki, it even kind of sounds like Waikiki, but it seems they are not introducing themselves with this name anymore. After some major Triple J investigation, I found out Waikiki have a new spin-off band named The Howling Bells, and they were the next band to play tonight. This was a nice surprise, seems I haven’t seen Juanita Stein [one of the coolest rock chicks in Australia], since Waikiki opened for No Doubt’s Rock Steady tour, many a year ago. The band’s sound is quite the same as I remember but with a little more rock thrown in. The set consisted of great pop/rock tunes you can sway to, also with rock’n’roll sounds making the crowd dance, then into a great slow burning ballad. It’s a good thing that Juanita is making a comeback, she definitely deserves to be remembered as a great woman of local music.
Love this thread... Pretty sure I remember J saying something along the lines of 'she wasn't that keen on Gwen & wouldn't ever buy a No Doubt album.' I wonder if they didn't get on so well whilst supporting...
So here's one from a low-key, small gig at the Sin-e Club, New York, October 11th, 2005, just before Howling Bells' first 'official' tour of Europe, supporting Editors.
They flew across the Pacific from Sydney to Los Angeles, did a couple of shows and a radio session (sadly lost to somewhere in the ether) there, then whizzed to Toronto and NYC, before taking the red-eye back to London.
Text: Live – Howling Bells Impress At First NYC Performance STORY BY: Chip Adams
A couple of weeks ago a co-worker of mine suggested that I check out a band called Howling Bells. I was introduced to the band on PLAYER.063 with their song “Low Happening”, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Having only heard the one song, I went to the show with no expectations. I walked out of NYC’s Sin-e a newly devoted fan of this outstanding Australian quintet.
Formerly Waikiki, Howling Bells consist of Glenn Moule on drums, Joel Stein on guitar, Brendan Picchio on bass and Juanita Stein on guitar and lead vocals. They seem like a cool bunch, but the power and emotion they erupt through their amps caught me off guard. Their sound lies somewhere between blues-rock and country-folk, yet their ‘90s influences from artists such as Lush and Mazzy Star help push the songs into a whole different level.
I could go on and on about Juanita Stein. Taking center stage, her vocals can go from a sultry whisper to an angry wail in the blink of an eye. At times she reminded me a bit of PJ Harvey, with some mighty powerful vocal chords. She kept the songs moving, adding a bit of stage banter to deaden the silence between songs. Why the suits at industry showcase performances always have to be so damn stiff is something I’ll never figure out. Even with the lack of enthusiasm from the “crowd”, Juanita put every ounce of herself into the songs.
Highlights from their all-too-brief set included the mesmerizing “Setting Sun”, with one of the most beautiful choruses I have heard in a rock song this year. Tracks like this should have A&R execs scrambling to sign this band to a deal in North America. Juanita Stein’s vocals soared over glossy-shoegazer guitars that sent chills down my spine. “Broken Bones” was another favorite, which had the same country swagger as a slightly less pissed off Sons And Daughters. Juanita rocked the hell out of “Low Happening” as she belted out “you use me as I use you.”
As the set ended, Howling Bells left me craving more. They have the talent, the tunes, and one of the finest lead vocalists around (no pun intended). They have recently completed work on their full-length album, which I can assure you will blow your socks off. Trust me, keep Howling Bells on your radar. You can thank me later.
The problem with the internet is that, despite what you may read, things don't last forever. Pages that used to exist may not any more, such as the one from the first (known and confirmed) Howling Bells gig in England, at the Windmill, Brixton, London on November 2nd, 2005. The review that used to be on the Windmill website is no longer there.
Thanks to Chasing Lullabies member Mattchew, who has archived a load of old web pages, others will survive, such as:
The first act on stage tonight are Nizlopi. They are something of a novelty act with their beat boxing double bass player John accompanied with a folk singer/acoustic guitarist Luke. Their songs all have a “I’m going to win the lottery” feel about them and the crowd just can’t get enough. So much so that tonight Nizlopi are the first band on and are the only band to do an encore. They are so crazy their odds for Christmas number one are 7/4 and they wouldn’t be out of place in a royal variety show…shame that their fans were too busy being boring in the bar next door to catch the next two live acts.
The next band Howling Bells have a lot more credibility going on. In fact, a lot more bands members, atmosphere, musical ability, anthemic choruses and a singer with a complex personality. At times she is something like a disenfranchised cowgirl and others bears the mark of a true indie chanteuse. From Salad to The Sundays, from Texas to a P J Harvey apprentice scheme - Juanita the singer has enough of that special quality to gain a legion of fans. Their album having been produced by Coldplay producer Ken Nelson is testament to the potential of this band to rule the world, but just who is going to give them a chance?
Neither Howling Bells nor Nizlopi are a live entertainment match for The Hank & Lilly Show. Even the single members of this band on their own would be enough - with a mutant Shirley Temple swopping between trumpet, drums, and a weird stringed instrument, military gay cowboys playing guitars/cellos, a bunny boy, a pole dancing lesbo and a cheeky mermaid as the show's presenter. All of these people contribute to the vocals and hail from Canada. With songs about David Hasselhoff, straight girls turning lesbian in revenge against boys, shaving your testicles for your lover, the “one finger salute” and a few audience sing-a-alongs - this is the perfect show, full of giggles, catchy tunes and unique performances.
Hailing from the shores of Sydney, Australia and now seeking residence in London, Howling Bells are four eager young beatniks, plying dirrty, trashy and elegantly sexy alt-rock.
DiS checks them out live and gives them a jolly good talking to.
Watching new bands can always be a challenge. The awkward stare that deviates between the stage and your shoes can be as off-putting as the music itself. Howling Bells however, invite you into their front room and offer you a cup of tea. Flirting between beauty and rock, the band scour songs from their as-yet unreleased debut album with style and sass.
Singer Juanita seduces the audience both visually and aurally whilst her brother Joel smothers the background in glorious soundscapes that are only penetrated by the dagger-like, incisive drumming and rhythmic bass.
Debut single 'Low Happening', released as a download only single in December, showcases the band's wide-range of influences and talents perfectly and tonight it's banged out with aplomb and emotion.
Howling Bells, despite opening tonight's bill (before Field Music and The Shortwave Set) play for nearly 40 minutes and maintain interest throughout. Splendid, splendid stuff.
Five Minutes with: Juanita Stein (Vocals/Guitar)
There’s a heat wave hitting Oz; it’s warm and sweaty. Lead Bell(e) Juanita has survived a record breaking 45-degree New Year’s Day and is feeling on form. "Hell yeah we feel good! It's been a long time rehearsing and not enough time playing, so being this busy and creative is really exciting for us. The crowds seem to be reacting quite positively which is always cool,” she says.
2005 saw the band, Lou Reed/PJ Harvey comparisons included, crawl through the UK scene for the first time. And they recorded their debut album with highly esteemed Coldplay producer Ken Nelson.
"It was effortless. Ken is a gentle, inspired and very intuitive producer. Space is important to him and that's exactly what we were looking for," she adds.
This year shall see said sounds released in the Spring through the well respected Bella Union label.
"We're really excited to be with such a great label. Before even getting in touch with them, we were very aware of their relevance on the music scene. Between us, we probably owned a copy of nearly every band's album on their roster, from Francois Breut to The Czars. They all genuinely love music, which is a rare gem in the music industry."
The band are no mess to look at either. Although their dapper threads, curly looks and mile-high cheekbones can only help fund their future forays, they are reserved about using their looks to succeed. "Pop music and pleasing aesthetics go hand in hand. However, I don't believe the kind of music we make quite fits into that genre of predictable and aesthetically-driven songs."
She continues: "There's no doubt you can use your looks to sell a record or two, but are you interesting? Do you have something provocative to say? What do your lyrics have to say about you? My point is, good looks alone are not merely enough to sustain yourself in this climate of over the top and meaningless products."
Confident in their songs and passionately into what they do, Howling Bells, who play the London Astoria with Editors, Richard Hawley and Brakes, are ready to face the challenges of a young rock band driven by a heady mix of "frustration, anger, lust and love".
Is it okay if we spend the whole review going on about how stunningly attractive Howling Bells' singer Juanita Stein is? No?! Right then, let's tell you about her band. They sound a bit like Mazzy Star. They're signed to Bella Union, home of all that is tasteful and collegiate. In anything other than small doses, they're a bit boring. But they may well sell a few records.
See, they've got this song called "Setting Sun" that's got 'coffee table crossover' written all over it. They drop it mid-set tonight - rather suddenly, in fact - and it so towers over everything else that, later, you wonder if you actually imagined it, perhaps because you so wanted Stein's songwriting to compete with her stunning attractiveness, which you should probably stop going on about now.
To be fair, Stein's more than a (stunningly) pretty face: she's got a voice that soars and swoops like a young Hope Sandoval's, or Cathy Davey's; she plays guitar in a languid, slightly cack-handed way that pleasingly recalls "Rid of Me"-era PJ Harvey; and she can command a stage, which is probably just as well considering that anonymous Sleeperblokes make up the rest of her band. Cool beret, too.
But there's no escaping that tonight the Bells give a fairly lacklustre showing, and it's not just because they're jetlagged after travelling from hometown Sydney via New York. The real problem is that most songs lack any spark of passion: rather, the emphasis appears to be on restraint, maturity and musicianship. Like, pass the Pro Plus. An opening quartet of "The Night Is Young", "Blessed Night", "Ballad Of The Bleeding Hearts" and "The Bell Hit" - songs as indistinct as their titles might suggest - fails to establish any real momentum, and it's only when they crack out "Setting Sun" that the Metro is jolted to life.
Subsequently, they fail to press home the advantage, with the likes of "Across the Avenue" and "Broken Bones" establishing a frustrating pattern: whenever Howling Bells lock into a hypnotic groove that seems worthy of exploration, they abruptly bring the song to a halt. Someone should lend these guys some Spacemen 3 records. And borrow the Mercury Rev. Set-closer "Low Happening" provides a welcome injection of urgency and menace, but even here there are issues. For a start, it's too little too late, but more pertinently, one has to ask: what the hell's a "low happening", anyway? And must the songs always wind-up just as they start to get interesting? Apparently so.
Juanita Stein may look beautiful, sing beautifully and have a beautiful song called "Setting Sun" up her sleeve, but there appears to be precious little fire in her belly. Tonight, it shows.
I really like this enigmatic black and white photograph from Howling Bells' European tour supporting Editors in late 2005. It's from Novenber 10, 2005, at the Rainbow Club, Milano, Italia.
Note that one song is listed as merely 'B-side'. I'm only guessing, but I reckon this must be an early version of 'Cities Burning Down' (or 'This City's Burning', as it appeared on the b-side of the 'Wishing Stone' single).
Here's one from the fifth date of Howling Bells' first extensive UK tour, which began on February 4, 2006, and ended ... well, it never really ended, as they played almost continuously for the rest of the year. That first gig was in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, at a venue called the Forum, which, acording to Joel, was a converted public toilet in a park and was absolutely freezing. It's still going strong (I've just checked) and has a website at www.twforum.co.uk/.
Anyway, within six days the intrepid foursome had travelled up to Glasgow (a long way from Kent) via Wolverhampton and Leeds, then shot back down south (and east) to Hull, on the bribk of the North Sea. There they played at the Adelphi on February 12, the gig being reviewed in the sadly missed Sandman magazine (an excellent listings and review magazine devoted to Yorkshire and Humberside that was free but wasn't all adverts, but it was killed off by the bloody internet). The original Sandman website link is no more, but thankfully Mattchew archived it here (it's right at the bottom):
It says: Howling Bells / The Bonnitts @ The Adelphi, Hull Having spent the day listening to Aberfeldy and reading old Spiderman comics I come to tonight’s gig in slightly the wrong frame of mind. To get myself in the mood for The Bonnitts’ Interpol-esque Indie rock and Howling Bells moody psych-folk I’d probably have been better off listening to old PJ Harvey records and watching Rumble Fish, twice. In fact, Howling Bells are so shadowy and mysterious, in sound and appearance, I half expect Walter Neff from Double Indemnity to clamber onstage at any moment, call lead singer Juanita “baby”, light a cigarette and then run off mumbling something about being glad he shot Phyllis (apologies for the obscure Film Noir reference). Don’t get me wrong though, in a world of Indie stars on reality television and in the tabloids, genuine mysteriousness is definitely a good thing. And it’s certainly not all doom and gloom, debut single ’Wishing Stone’ often veers close to the more melancholy moments of power-pop eight-piece The Concretes before checking itself as if to not give too much away. Howling Bells, whoever they are, deserve your attention. Tom White
And three days later I saw them live for the first time in Derby, at the tiny Victoria Inn (see above)