Howling Bells fail to impress in a sea of noise

Hard Rock Calling 2009 review

published: Fri 3rd Jul 2009

Friday 26th to Sunday 28th June 2009
Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH, England MAP
£45 for Saturday
last updated: Mon 15th Jun 2009

Hailing from Australia, Howling Bells pack a subtlety that seems out of sync with the trend for balls-out, bruising antipodean rock we’ve witnessed over the past years. By the time the band strut onto the stage, the early sunshine has already departed.

A blissed-out opener leads into the more determined, bluesy thrum of 'Blessed Night', making for a strong beginning. Simply put, this band can make a lovely noise, with an undercurrent of woozy, stoner-ish psych-rock flowing through everything they touch. It's a feeling best epitomised by their earlier work, most notably the creepy throb of 'Wishing Stone'. As ever, frontwoman Juanita Stein brings the sex appeal to proceedings, peppering her singing and rhythm guitar duties with handclaps and some startling, feline squealing. And all while wearing a pair of earrings that look like they're on loan from Saturn.

But here's the problem. While it's all very sensual stuff, coming on like the soundtrack to a smoky, wild-eyed summer orgy, it feels as though a pretty bog standard bar band lies underneath it all. Even though the guitarist is getting quite a kick from his playing, there's something unforgivably lacklustre about their performance as a whole. Stein is forever reassuring the crowd there are only a few songs left, and watching them today gives the impression of aimless meandering, bereft of any real purpose other than reaching a conclusion. It's not helped by the fact that some of the songs lack any recognisable climax, meaning the wash of sound, nice though it is, fast becomes monotonous.

Even when the Bells dive into the excellent 'Low Happening', their biggest hit, they make it seem flabby and uninspired. Rushing through the song they plough forward into a breakdown, losing their way en route, before bringing it back to what should be a triumphant final chorus. Sadly, it falls flat.

While there's no questioning Howling Bells' talent for melody, or the originality of their sound, today they fail to make the best of this. The result is spectacularly mediocre, and a missed opportunity.
review by: Nick Hagan

Friday 26th to Sunday 28th June 2009
Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH, England MAP
£45 for Saturday
last updated: Mon 15th Jun 2009

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