On Thursday evening, indie darlings Howling Bells played an anticipated show at Howler, demonstrating their genuine fondness for the word ‘howl’. Most of the band members grew up in Sydney, but since establishing a fan base in the UK have been largely based there in recent years. Their recent tour has followed the debut of their latest album Heartstrings, which was released in June. The ever-alluring Juanita Stein graced the stage with drummer Glenn Moule, bassist Gary Daines and lead guitarist Joel Stein (who is also her brother).
The crowd was eclectic, representing a variety of ages and lacking any distinguishable pattern. Everyone’s eyes seemed drawn to Juanita, who undoubtedly brings with her a cool and calm aura that draws you in an inexplicably mesmerising way. It’s almost as if you are aware that is in an image that she has impeccably built, but it still feels just a bit magic anyway. She swayed to the music as if she was the only person, throwing her hair back and forth.
The first few songs were intriguing, yet they acted as a warm up before truly captivating the crowd with songs like ‘A Ballad For Bleed Hearts’ from the album Radio Wars. The subtle, slow-drawn lyrics were matched with a clever arrangement of guitar and bass, whereby the predominantly minor chords were matched by the reflective, melancholic lyrics. The cheers and jeers from the crowd were indication enough that this was a memorable performance.
The way the band worked the stage demonstrated just how long they have been playing together, and how comfortable they are with performing together. Juanita made a cheeky comment in regards to how tame the audience was, mentioning that it was one of the bassist Daine’s first ever shows in Australia. In return, the crowd anointed Gary with a term of endearment, referring to him as ‘Gazza’ for the rest of the show, and cat calling to him on a regular basis.
The amusing banter between audience and band was followed by a particularly memorable song called ‘Original Sin’ from the new album Heartstrings. It began with a more fast paced rhythm than many of the songs played thus far in the evening; each note hit with a clearly defined staccato. The lyrics were catchy, moody and easy to follow. The song seemed to carry with it an invitation to new fans by proving that this band is still kicking along, creating more music to sink teeth into.
Other songs that noticeably kept people on their toes, while moving their fingers, were tunes such as the ‘Cities Burning Down Again’ and ‘Nightingale’ both from the album Radio Wars, as well as ‘Setting Sun’ from their debut album. There was a rhythm guitar and bass solo with Juanita and Daines during ‘Setting Sun’ that was a pleasure to watch. Something about the fact that the aesthetic was so predictable yet cohesive was a very satisfying experience for a viewer.
Juanita returned with drummer Moule for an encore. She performed a new song that involved a backing track and drums. It showcased her vocal range more so than most of the other songs as it relied so heavily on her voice. It was a pensive song that evoked a contemplative mind state and was a refreshing change from their general sound. When the band finally left the stage, they exited with grandeur and style, reminding everyone that longevity is a mark of refinement and an ode to Howling Bells as an ever-progressing group of artists and musicians.