Two gigs in 3 nights, both checking out young bands with a lot of raw edges but a lot of promise. This time, it’s down to the Louisiana for Minnesota’s Howler; after my initial sighting (gig 838, over 2 years ago now!), I‘d remarked that they were “a potentially great band for 2012 and beyond, I’m glad I got to see them in a small venue”. For some reason the Vaccines-like career trajectory I’d anticipated hasn’t quite yet happened for them, despite continuing favourable press, so I’ve got another chance to see them in a small venue, promoting a new album which, rather annoyingly, came out today but my copy hasn’t arrived yet. Bah!
Still, me and old boys Beef and driver Dean set off to Brizzle in the drizzle, parking outside the venue at 8 and taking the stairs to this small room (which I swear gets tinier every time I go there!) to check out openers Cursor Major. Led by an impressively curly-haired vocalist (who in backlit silhouette could have been mistaken for Phil Lynott!) who insisted on setting up on the floor (making the venue even tinier!), they had some decent chunky pop tunes and shimmering guitar, albeit overly loud and a little unrehearsed, which reminded me on my only time of seeing The Killers, as support at Reading Fez a few years back! They put some effort into their performance, though, and toes were duly tapped. Promising, but better was to come after a break and chat downstairs, thanks to main support Broken Hands. A young black-clad 4-piece, they played an intriguing swirling psychedelia/ Krautrock melange, with languid workouts juxtaposed with some proto blues rock riffery. The vocalist (who could certainly carry a tune very well), dug out a glowing orb for a “concept” double-header of numbers about a meteor landing in Russia when he was visiting (!), the second of which, “Meteor”, was a metronomic and dramatic Krautrock groove and their best number. Music to get drugged and blissed out to, not that I do that anyway, but still very enjoyable and a band to watch.
Chatted with Broken Hands’ vocalist while Howler set up and the place emptied (!) then filled up again at their onstage time of 10.00. A slightly revised line-up, featuring a new drummer, their relaxed confidence was evident from the outset; after the guitarist remarked; “give us 5 minutes, no just joking, we’re ready now,” they burst into set opener, their best track “Back Of My Hand”. Already ensconced down the front, I gave it loads from the outset to this euphoric ramshackle garage rock delight, all the while recognising I’d probably pay for my efforts tomorrow morning…! Mainman Jordan Gatesmith, tall and angular with a green shirt featuring an antler design (!), was a howling focal point throughout this set of raw, raucous, semi-formed yet thrilling melodic US new wave. “Drip” was an old-school thrash punk speed-through with a trademark soaring, euphoric chorus, and a couple of new, frustratingly unfamiliar numbers from the new album, followed, the eerie mutant surf punk riff of “Yacht Boys” galloping into a rampant, 100 mph chorus. This was however capped by the subsequent “In The Red”, the descending bassline (I like those!) tumbling into a manic chorus, the best new song on show tonight. Great stuff.
The drummer insisted on getting the crowd to call back the phrase, “In a wee slooper” (!) midway through the set, then after a doo-wop-tastic newie “Here’s That Itch Baby Girl”, Jordan and the boys abandoned the set-list for a request from my fellow front-row dancer, the plangent shimmer of “Beach Sluts”. A swift 40 minutes set was rounded off with an unplanned encore which recalled the home-made surf punk C86-isms of early Soup Dragons, as raucous and chaotic yet controlled and fun as the set before it.
Breathless stuff. A brief entertaining chat with Jordan afterwards capped the evening well, after a set full of verve, life, colour and enthusiasm. Raw, ramshackle, elemental, garagey; bands like Howler are the lifeblood and essence of rock’n’roll, distilled to its most basic, fun, tuneful components. More power to them! And next time, it WILL be in a bigger venue!