Firmly placed in the classic rock sound of the ‘70s, San Francisco quintet Howlin Rain blend a love of mind shattering thunderous rock with screeching guitar solos that many fans believe is captured best in a live setting. About time, then, that they unleashed a live recording, the double LP Live Rain becoming the first such offering some 10 years after their formation.
Originally a side project of singer/guitarist Ethan Miller as he veered away from the psych-rock of his main band Comets On Fire, Howlin Rain developed into something more honed after the chaotic freeform of Comets but even then, there was little in the way of distinct melodies with much of their studio output turning into self indulgent electric guitar meanderings. In a live arena though, the lengthy instrumental noodlings generally become even longer.
The first four tracks from Live Rain all come from one source: third album The Russian Wilds from 2012. In fact, in rather unexciting fashion, the first three tracks are the first three from the aforementioned long player, albeit in a different order. Opening track Phantom In The Valley opens with an uncanny resemblance to The Who’s Pinball Wizard before turning into a weaving epic of nigh on nine minutes and when the Black Sabbath tinged second track and single Self Made Man then enjoys a three minute extension to its original running time, you get the picture of where this album is going. For the record, the original studio running times of the first two tracks were seven and eight minutes anyway; stretching already stretched tracks is commonplace throughout.
The slower blues rock of Can’t Satisfy Me Now is a welcome break from the onslaught of guitar mayhem, as is the short wah wah drenched Beneath Wild Wings – all over after less than four and a half minutes. It’s the more concentrated burst of guitar soloing within that turns this track into one of the album’s finest moments, thankfully sounding more Creedence Clearwater Revival than Spinal Tap, which is unfortunately the way things occasionally pan out.
Lord Have Mercy from 2008’s second album Magnificent Fiend continues the wah pedal antics throughout its slower pace and the simple yet memorable chorus helps paint a Lynyrd Skynyrd Southern rock picture. At one point the track slows down to a blues soaked crawl before a cataclysmic climax of guitaring brilliance brings down the curtain on an ever evolving beast, this time the soloing along with pummeltastic drumming enhancing proceedings rather than overwhelming them.
Another slow bluesfest follows in Hung Out In The Rain before an eight minute rocker returns to the main trend of guitar soloing overkill that begins to test your patience as images of head shaking, long haired, flared trouser wearing followers of Deep Purple et al from the early ‘70s appear in your mind.
Dancers At The End Of Time begins to more of the same wild guitar mayhem as its instrumental opening does its best to wear away the ears before Miller’s hollering blasts into being as you really begin to believe you have been sent back in a timewarp to when Jimi Hendrix was God. And with album closer Roll On The Rusted Days from the eponymous 2006 debut following a similar path, it eventually becomes a case of a little too much.
With the band recently jumping on the bandwagon with a Record Store Day release – the “damaged cosmic ballad” (whatever that means) of Bone Of Sunlight being the single – they are at least becoming more of a known item outside their native USA. And those seeking a new fix of good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll from the ‘70s need look no further, as Howlin Rain provide an ample return of sorts to that era – hell, they even dress like they’re in the ‘70s, man.