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Live review: Howling Bells, September 12 @ Oxford Art Factory

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on September 14, 2014

Words by Samantha Groth

Instrument mastery and impeccable vocals, Howling Bells are all grown up.

Walking in just before Glass Maps, the small crowd was buzzing- this Howling Bells show had been three years and the making and Glass Maps had no problem meeting the energy of the crowd. They were excitable, fun and gave everyone off stage the music and charisma they were looking for. During Cull’s equally energetic, but grunged up set, the crowd near doubled, leaving Howling Bells a with packed and already sweaty homecoming crowd when they hopped onto the packed and probably already sweaty stage.

Noticeably, in this packed house, the entire audience were wearing collared shirts and looked like they had productive day jobs- a demographic usually unfamiliar to Oxford Art Factory. The crowd’s age and attire made sense when the ticket price of $35 was remembered, because, if I’m being honest – anyone outside of that demographic can’t afford that, it’s an entire case of mid-level beer let’s remember. The sheer turnout was a testament to Howling Bells, their craftwork, and already established legacy as performers. They did not disappoint.

Although the unusual demographic for an underground venue meant more awkward bops came out of those not on the stage than would usually be seen, the crowd were absorbed and impressed by a glorious, celebratory performance. Lead singer, Juanita Stein’s impeccable vocals pranced through genres, owned them, and made them seem new. She took Norah Jones and added some soft jazz, then brightened everybody’s black hearts with a rock performance channeling Joan Jett, grunts, screams, rawness- all of it. This was all matched by perfectly wielded instruments and a synchronicity only seen in bands that know each other well.

Although the band were well in sync, and connected at every level with each other, the connection with audience left a little to be desired. The performance was excellent, but felt a little like a stadium show, packed into an intimate stage. Really, it felt a little bit out of place at Oxford Art Factory, but in the same way as you do when you go back to your home town… The music was familiar and warm, but the neighbours are a decade older and you leave the visit feeling a little bit more ‘city’ than you realised you were.

Howling Bells are real grown ups now, so maybe they needed to go somewhere a bit bigger, with a taller stage- but shit, they know how to play music.

8/10 awkward bops.

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