Thursday, 26 January 2012
838 HOWLER, Man Made, The Gentry Underground, Six Minutes To Sunrise, Southampton Joiner's Arms, Wednesday 25 January 2012
A hasty acquisition of their debut, “America Give Up”, reinforced this positive and promising view, but where I heard potentially thrilling crunchy guitar and swaggering new wave melody in a Replacements meets Modern Lovers vein, Rachel heard, “same old, same old.” So I headed down to the Joiners on my own, again glorying in how close Southampton is, and parking up in a handy (and free!) car park behind the easy-to-find venue. Only caught the last 2 numbers of openers Six Minutes To Sunrise, which was unfortunate as one was a fragile post-recovery number about the stylishly black shirted and red-tied vocalist’s recent serious illness, and the other a chunkier and more robust indie rocker. Certainly better than The Gentry Underground, next up; another smartly dressed bunch, but purveyors of an interminable and primitive blues jam howl, with the floppy fringed Ben Kweller lookalike vocalist screaming unintelligibly throughout. They no doubt believe they’re “psychedelic”, but they were just a godawful racket. Julian Cope would probably love them. Dumped merch back in the car just to escape the noise awhile, and compared survivors’ notes with SMTS’ affable vocalist outside instead.
I overheard an excellent snippet of conversation (girl; “who writes their (TGU’s) lyrics?”: boyfriend; “what lyrics?”) whilst wandering back through for main support Man Made at 9.30, following a fiddly soundcheck. He underlined the favourable impression forged by his Buffalo Tom support last year; rocking a spangly gold jacket this time, instead of the green and black jumper of my youth, his earnest set of haunting, slightly US alt-rock influenced angst was effects-pedal propelled and mighty fine, and featured plaintive keening vocals reminiscent of Placebo’s Brian Molko. A cynical and wilful attitude too (“I’m going to play a couple more songs then you can go back to enjoying your evening”!), but another good set.
I stayed down the front against the monitors, stage left – a pocket of space in this crammed little venue! – for Howler’s entrance at 10.30. Led by Gatesmith, an angular black leather clad spider-plant of a man-child, like a stretched “Saint Julian”-era Cope with a floppier fringe and a more laconic, Stan Ridgeway meets Julian Casablancas delivery, they rocked into opener “America” with enthusiasm and gusto. The upbeat, ramshackle 50’s milk bar doo-wop of “Beach Sluts” was an early highlight, their performance bordering on wild chaos but being held in check largely by drummer Brent Mayes, a solid and tough presence and likely the best drummer out of Minneapolis since Grant Hart!
“We don’t have a set-list, we just kind of go,” announced Gatesmith following an onstage band consultation on the subject of, “what are we playing now?” which resulted in a deliciously raucous “This One’s Different”, and the subsequent C86/Strokes collision of “Told You Once”. And all too quickly, their ½ hour set culminated in a moshpit-tastic “Back Of Your Neck”, their best number and the highlight tonight, the glorious soaring rush of the descending “whoo-hoo”s already instantly memorable. And memorable too was a chat with drummer-man Mayes afterwards, who offered to write me a set-list! Great stuff. Like The Vaccines, Howler’s lineage is obvious and easy to trace, but the bands that last the distance always have great tunes. And Howler have great tunes. A potentially great band for 2012 and beyond, I’m glad I got to see them in a small venue…