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Concert Review: Howling Bells

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Newcastle Academy
15 August 2006

Barring the collected output of the Brothers Finn, the Antipodean colonies haven’t had much luck in the musical department. By all means count Men At Work, if for the only known Vegemite name-check in pop, or Frente by dint of their numerous appearances on low-rent Neighbours substitute Home And Away. Hell, if you’re feeling really desperate, you can even have Australia’s very own third-rate Nirvana, The Vines. Regardless, it’s far from an inspiring list and one you suspect new Aussie hopes Howling Bells could top simply by showing up. Assuming, that is, the venue can stop short of electrocuting the whole group with some dodgy mics.

Luckily, for us, they do. Led by the munchkin-sized Juanita Stein, who, despite her diminutive frame, ably channels Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and PJ Harvey through a slightly jarring Suzie Quatro rock-chick filter, it would be easy to pigeonhole Howling Bells as a simple (and, therefore, dull) shoegazing outfit. Guitars that swing from ethereal and dreamlike to plangent ringing in the flick of a switch? Check. Syrupy vocals that take a run for the high-range whenever possible? Check. But if that was all they had to offer, your correspondent would’ve been better off crashing in and breaking out the Slowdive albums. Howling Bells’ real appeal is in their assimilation of almost feet-tapping blues rock and a splash of old-time twanging country. But lest the country leanings and that mention of Slowdive drives you, understandably, towards a Mojave 3 frame of mind, don’t, because Howling Bells are a much more appetising, upbeat and less depressingly melancholic proposition.

Always more than the sum of their influences, Howling Bells deliver a night of, at times, heart-tearingly lush emotion, laced with just enough rock to stop them being aural bromide. Get with it Australia, Howling Bells are here to put a shine on that dubious musical legacy.

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About Greg Smyth

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