Live Music + Gig Reviews

Howling Bells @ Islington Academy, London

9 February 2009

No one likes being at work. That’s why they call it work and not Super Happy Fun Time. That, andthe fact that Super Happy Fun Time sounds like a cross between a paedophile’s homepage and thelatest moronic 7am cartoon on ITV.

But then again, surely being in a band and playing showscan’t be like work. It’s what you do instead of doing work. Isn’t it?

For Howling Bells, this gig sure looked like work. Hard, tiresome, rather be at home watchingTrisha in my pants work.

The kind of work which makes Monday morning’s schedule as follows: 1. Can’t be arsed. 2. Need ACoffee. 3. Gonna play Solitaire for at least the next three hours and woe betide the miserablesod who even casts a glance in my direction.

They were tired, they were grouchy and they were hardly on top form. Three things that if you’restricken with, you should at least try to mask from your audience.

It was all brought to a head when Setting Sun started, stopped, glared unhappily at the soundman and thencollapsed. A shame, and not entirely their fault, but troubling nonetheless. Particularly as whenthey did just get on with the task in hand, there were some real blasts of excellence.

Ms Bell’s Song pointed intoxicatingly at what The Velvet Underground would have been like withsome proper vocalists, while Cities Burning Down enveloped you like an inappropriate hug; ahypnotically driving pace, cut with squalling guitar lines and Juanita Stein providing the siren callto pierce through the haze.

Which could be where the strange undercurrent of nastiness actually helped. For every good sirenneeds the layer of rocks upon which to wreck their captured craft, otherwise they’re just somesilly bint flopped on a beach offering favours for passing sailors.

For the most part, the gaps in the performance were the gaps in the performance. There were someweak numbers tonight for sure – Nightingale was overlong and directionless and Let’s Be KidsAgain is silly, one dimensional and trite live or on record. But it was the awkward, bi-polardelivery and banter which really scuppered the Bells.

If this new found edge perpetuates in more songs like Golden Web, Portishead-like in both itsprocessed beats and its haunting, vitriolic lyric delivered with pristine beauty, then it isn’t abad thing. If it’s just something that makes attending their live shows a slightly awkwardexperience, then we can probably do without it.

Workmanlike performances and ethereal beauty are pretty much opposing concepts. Howling Bells woulddo well to remember that, if they continue to aim for the latter and hit the former.

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More on Howling Bells
Howling Bells – Heartstrings
Howling Bells @ Oslo, London
Howling Bells – The Loudest Engine
Howling Bells @ Scala, London
Howling Bells – Radio Wars