Mark Perlaki

22:41 18th March 2007

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Howling Bells

A tarot reading may have revealed different fortunes for the Howling Bells on their return to the Scottish capital having clocked just four people in the audience on their last visit to Edinburgh and their record lowest attendance. Shame, and proof that you can't keep a good thing down. This time around the cooped cavern of the Cabaret Voltaire hosts the Aussie four-piece to a chockablock and sold-out evening. Should the band have been fronted by a male member then they may have come across as just another testosterone-driven band, but their beauty and appeal lies in having Juanita Stein as the lead-singer bringing her seductive charms to their indie-noir melodies.

Like a latter day Debbie Harry plus a Chrissie Hynde with her power and range, the come hither vocals of Juanita Stein the raven-haired belle prop the band who are made up of equal parts talent and versatility, bending and warping the tunes from their eponymous album and setting it on fire with a volcanic performance. Opening with the twangy guitars of 'The Bell Hit' and "...How the times have changed/  I'd rearrange your headspace..." refrain leading into the dirt-kicking of 'This City's Burning' like a Sisters of Mercy onslaught crossed with The Pixies. 'Wishing Stone' has the Roger Waters guitar-style guitars fettered by dirty rhythms and an aggrieved bass, followed by the anthemic 'Setting Sun' with the rallying call - " more day is not enough to change the world..." and the versatility of guitar styles showing their command.

Howling Bells'Velvet Girl' brings Debbie Harry to mind with Juanita's dreamy/creamy Blondie-esue delivery oozing sass and appeal, and the gutsy highlight of 'Blessed Night' has the stomp-rock ripping the seams for one top sexy tune delivered with power, gusto and the loving demeanor of a band who mean business - "...walking the line/ water to wine/ changing the tide/ some blessed night...". Juanita hits the notes with the good time rock 'n' roll of 'The Night Is Young', and 'Across The Avenue' were told is just about a feeling and the staccato rhythms rein in the power of performance for a swaying number.

'Broken Bones' is a tune the Stooges of Iggy couldn't better with its ripping riffs and Juanita growling it out - "...drinking here alone/ is not so pretty for a girl..." evoking the Chrissie Hynde comparison. There must be a candle lit for Roy Orbison on 'Ballad For The Bleeding Hearts' with its sexy melancholy and cod-opera. 'Low Happening' closes for the curtain call with it's ballsy causticness and dancefloor cross-over appeal - "...You listen to trash/ but it's not Rock'n'Roll...".

A venue which would have allowed their sound the breadth to fill out beyond the narrow chunnel of Cabaret Voltaire would have given all the more pleasure, but The Howling Bells more than delivered with countless great tunes even without an encor. Though still in their infancy, the confidence and love of their tunes was infectious with their barbed hooks and seductive refrains. An eve was well spent in Howling company.

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Photo: Andrew McKenna