Gig Review: Howling Bells @ Club Academy, Manchester, 15th March 2009

Howling Bells @ Club Academy,  ManchesterHowling Bells promised much when we first saw them play at Summer Sundae in 2006 and they put out a decent debut of consistently good, if inoffensive, indie rock songs made all the more palatable by some delicious gothic country undertones. Then I forgot all about them and moved on to other things, so much so that I even forgot that we owned a copy of said album until last week. Now they’re back with a new album called Radio Wars on which they forgo the aforementioned country tinges to explore a more straightforward radio-friendly sound, much, let it be said, to their detriment. Not only does it boast a cover that Razorlight must be kicking themselves for not thinking up first, but also it’s called Radio Wars for fuck’s sake, a phrase that gets me thinking of exciting things like listener figures and Steve Wright in the Afternoon. Now if they’d put an image of George Lamb being kicked senseless in a dark alley in the rain by Gideon Coe and Marc Riley on the cover then I might have approached it with a little more respect.

Howling Bells @ Club Academy,  ManchesterThis is not to say that it’s a terrible album, it has its moments such as the excellent opener “Treasure Hunt” and the single “Cities Burning Down”, both of which were played at the Club Academy last Sunday and both of which held their own against the material from their eponymous debut. It was an assured performance by the band but one with little real excitement save for the attire (or lack of) of easy-on-the-eye frontwoman Juanita Stein. The new material, shorn of its studio lustre, sounded much improved and I even almost enjoyed the excrable “Golden Web” and the nice but dull “Nightingale” and was thankful that they chose not to play the dreadful “Let’s Be Kids”. The older stuff was uniformly excellent however and the likes of “Low Happening” and “Setting Suns” left me thinking what could have been had they continued on the path mapped out by that debut. They played only one encore but it was, surprisingly, the hidden track off the new record. And it was excellent, probably the best thing on the album but a song they obviously weren’t confident enough in to give a credit.

The Joy Formidable @ Club Academy, ManchesterThe gig was made wholly worthwhile by the appearance of support band The Joy Formidable earlier in the evening. The London-based three-piece made a tremendous racket with their hook-laden pop songs drowned in squalls of feedback and white noise, a kind of shoegazy version of Sky Larkin. It was a relentless, exciting performance and they’d played three songs before they came up for air and allowed the crowd to show their appreciation. They also weren’t afraid to extend their songs with lengthy noise-laden wig-outs, which was quite refreshing. While giving Radio Wars a wide berth you might want to think about getting hold of The Joy Formidable’s A Balloon Called Moaning. Hopefully they won’t squander their early promise in the same manner as their tourmates.

Howling Bells – Setting Sun

Howling Bells – Treasure Hunt

The Joy Formidable – The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade

11 Responses to “Gig Review: Howling Bells @ Club Academy, Manchester, 15th March 2009”

  • catshoe Says:

    I saw this lot the following night in Liverpool. I probably enjoyed Howling Bells a bit more than you, or maybe I’m just easily influenced. You’re so right about Joy Formidable. I really want them to get really successful, but if and when they do I’ll miss seeing them play to 50 people with the chance to chat with them afterwards. Scary picture of Ritzy BTW. Cheers!

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