Australia doesn't do style, in music or fashion. The men insist on speedos, the bands on brainless rock leaving only Nick Cave to inspire. It seems Howling Bells have been listening. On a night when the beautiful Empire was slowly filling to a crush to witness Mercury Rev, it was Howling Bells' early time on stage that captivated. For an evening New York lost its cool to Sydney, and it sounded incredible.
Howling Bells are female fronted by the wonderfully named Juanita Stein, who also controls the rhythm guitar, and they're backed by three true Australian named band members - Glenn, Brenden and Joel. One bass, lead guitar, drums and vocal. Sounds pretty straightforward and even the band sell themselves short with their self description of an indie, electonica, rock band. That is exactly what Mercury Rev have sadly become, while the Howling Bells are drawing in so many influences and ideas that their music is about as exciting as anything currently showing and on the live stage it makes even more sense. This epic Empire is the perfect venue for their mix of shoegaze and grunge that is both timeless and current. Their short set draws from 2006's hugely successful self-titled debut, with the glorious 'Setting Sun' and 'Low Happening' real highlights, and 2009's follow up 'Radio Wars'. The sound is certainly edgier with muddy bass and ominous, quivering guitar while Juanita's cristaline vocal remains in all its beauty. 'Into The Chaos' is some track to bring Howling Bells back in to higher consciousness and to another level altogether. Howling Bells flick between the sounds of the very best girl led rock bands from Blondie to Garbage to Yeah Yeah Yeahs and produce something absolutely essential. An amazing voice, amazing music.
Mercury Rev have lost what once made them the best of Americana. At their best when they let Jonathan Donahue's voice of another place stand out with lush music backing rather than spoiling. Ten years on from their classic 'Deserter's Songs', from which 'Holes' provided the most beautiful moment here, Mercury Rev are now reliant on big electronic noise, light shows and big screen imagery. They've lost their nerve and the plot. Mercury Rev were upstaged and howled out of town by the Bells.
Released: Sun 16th Nov 2008