Seeing a band you are newly acquainted with at New York’s Mercury Lounge is usually a good bet for success, both for you and the band. Like a down under, dusty old west traveling medicine show, Australia’s Howling Bells bring alt-indie/country to a new level.
Getting right down to business, the HBs start off their concise set with a rapturous version of “Blessed Night,” then slip smoothly into their first single “Wishing Stone,” which highlights Juanita Stein’s impressive voice. Much has been written about Juanita’s sweet Debbie Harry-meets-Ronnie Spector vocal style, but nothing I’ve read compares to the live experience of hearing her sing. Her range is as staggering as her allure. But Juanita is no diva, and Howling Bells present themselves every inch as a down-to-earth band.
Creating texture and melody simultaneously, brother Joel Stein’s guitar work is dark and exquisite. He uses his Telecaster and his ample effects box real estate, (being slightly reminiscent of Bauhaus’s Daniel Ash, and he kind of looks and moves like him too), to stir the grotesque twilight from the shadows of late afternoon.
Howling Bells’ show at Mercury was an supernatural treat. Having just finished up opening for The Killers, playing intimate venues like Mercury here in the US will shortly be a thing of the past. Let’s hope Howling Bells find an American label soon. —CD/photo by Tear-n Tan