Kenn Taylor

20:00 18th August 2006

Australians Howling Bells have been attracting a definite amount of positive attention, yet remained largely off the mainstream radar. However the size and variety of the crowd tonight, in a distinctly humid Barfly, shows that those who are in the know aint staying at home. They stroll on and as frontwoman Juanita Stein takes to the mic a slightly sad voice in the audience shouts “I like you”, she replies “I like you too” and the music begins. It’s clear from the start that Juanita is the focus of the band, both in terms of presence and sound. Her blues-tinted and melancholy-dipped voice carries far across the quiet hall as she hovers close to the microphone. It’s a gentle but powerful start and we float in the melody.

Slow and cutting, warm and low, it’s lush rock that really gets into you rather than washes over you and maybe it’s just the heat, but this music makes you feel like you’re not in the top room of the Barfly, instead sitting in a Roadhouse at dusk in the American west. And it’s a good place to be. As they move on into ‘Wishing Star’, the bluesy undertow gets heaver, Juanita literally lets her hair down and we get the full force of their sound unleashed. They then reveal to us that, for all the warmth and exoticness of their sound, they recorded their album in drizzly Liverpool, at the back of this very venue in Parr Street Studios. “So you’re basically our home crowd” she says to a whooping response before playing the just dam wonderful ‘Setting Sun’. It’s a hypnotic tune, perhaps their best song, with a perfect mix of deep, glossy bass and rock power and with sharp lines of melody and Juanita’s dreamy vocals and mystic lyrics all over it we’re soon lost in these desert cruising blues, as Juanita herself cuts quiet a dash, lit up somewhere between red and blue.

Told they have five minutes left. They respond with “Surely these guys deserve another couple of tunes” to a rapturous response. They knock out another one quickly then roll into the rockier side of their sound with closer ‘Low Happening’, the familiarity of which gets noises of satisfaction from the whole audience. It’s probably their most familiar tune, maybe there most accessible, but also one of the most conventional. When they dare to go a little slower, add more melody and push the vocals further they really take you somewhere special, whereas this seems more just a rock out – nothing wrong with that, but why go for default thrills when you can do so much more? And so a short set ends and we cease to be in a smoky roadhouse, instead a dark room in North West England. We like you too Howling Bells.