For all the glamour of being able to write ‘musician’ in your passport, it must be difficult being in a band sometimes.
For example, Australians Howling Bells kicked off their UK tour at the Wedgewood Rooms promoting their new album and despite the Wedge only being half full (and quite quiet - at one point the crowd were backhandedly complimented for being ‘well behaved’ and good-naturedly told ‘please remember to stamp your library card on the way out’) still managed to put a good, professional and enjoyable show. Three albums in, they deserve much more.
Opening band Cold Specks have the neo-Gothic Deep South feel that Howling Bells’ first album did (close your eyes - it’s sunset, a crow takes off from a cactus to land on a skull, and puts on a cowboy hat) and they also boast a singer with a phenomenal blues/gospel voice who renders the Wedge silent when she sings a capella at the end of their first number. They haven’t got the songs to match their great sound yet: they’d slay the nation if Jools Holland showcased them and gave them two slots, but over half an hour their material runs a bit thin. Keep an eye out for them, though.
Where the first, eponymous, Howling Bells album was the sound of the desert - albeit a tuneful, harmonic desert - their second, Radio Wars, lost a bit of the raw spooky feel and went a bit pop. The good news is that live their songs still have some grit to them and the newer tracks tread a line between the Radio Wars perkiness and their earlier country-goth-doom to very good effect.
Gold Suns, White Guns is a mixture of Kate Bush-style operatics and muscular guitar, while The Wilderness, a song introduced as being about insomnia, builds and builds to impressive effect. While there’s nothing in the newer songs that brings out thrilled goose pimples in the same way as the outstanding Setting Sun - which boasts a chorus that chills and uplifts in equal measure - there’s plenty to suggest that they’ll be howling for a long time to come.