Concert Review: Howler @ The Deaf Institute

Photo by Cameron Wittig

Arriving an hour before doors open in the desperate hope of there being a queue for Minneapolis four piece Howler, I am left somewhat disappointed. Having seen the band just two days before at Birmingham Institute Temple with a questionably disinterested crowd, passions for the band set to “do the next Vaccines” seem to have waned. I find myself sitting with Jordan Gatesmith (vocals, guitar) and Ian Nygaard (backing vocals, lead guitar) at their cosy dinner table on the floor below, for some time after doors have opened. There’s still very little to be seen in terms of a forming crowd, even as I head into the venue to see supporting act Broken Hands fifteen minutes before they’re due on stage. There are perhaps ten or fifteen people here, hiding at the back in the seats. Why is there such a lack of a crowd?

Broken Hands break into their set, regardless of the shortage of new listeners. Although Bristol’s “pissed off Verve” rockers only have two tracks floating around the internet at the moment, they have an expansive back-catalogue which does well to abruptly wake up the previously disengaged crowd. ‘No One Left To Meet’ has the most infectiously memorable bassline heard in a long time, whereas ‘My Orbit Changes Every Day’ is a dirty blues rock number that itches to make comparisons to The Raconteurs. Regardless of the fact that singer Dale Norton eerily resembles Kurt Cobain 2.0, this is a band that will stick in your head for a hell of a long time.

In the time that Broken Hands have been playing, my fears are alleviated as fans start to trickle in lazily until the venue is near almost full. Perhaps the attitude of Howler’s fans is a direct reflection of their music – undeniably scrappy, yet also unquestionably cool. As Gatesmith welcomes and thanks fans for finally showing, the band prepare to launch into the rebelliously punky ‘Yacht Boys’. The crowd is slow to react, however by the time the surf-rock territory of ‘Wailing’ has been explored, the atmosphere of the venue has exploded. This show has quickly developed into an unmistakable homage to rock n’ roll, as the distortedly beautiful ‘Don’t Wanna’ receives a warm welcome, followed by the bubblegum beach-pop of ‘Beach Sluts’.

Drawling vocals, ripped jeans and unwashed hair create the image of half-arsedness amongst the band, but it all comes across as somewhat charming. Howler took a year and a half to get around to writing and recording World Of Joy, yet no one can help but feel it was worth the wait. Their approach to making music is represented in their live show. There is nothing explicitly fancy about two guitars, a bass and drums, yet Howler give something extra into the mix that makes this show extremely captivating.

Storming through crowd favourites such as ‘Back Of Your Neck’ and ‘This One’s Different’, the show comes to a close on “fake blues song” ‘Indictment’. A stage invasion now seems all the more necessary, a means of paying tribute to the genre that the band are passionately, yet lazily keeping alive.

Yes, people are still interested in Howler. Yes, they’re the slackest bunch of musicians you’ll ever see. Will they be able to keep up the buzz that they’re creating now? It all depends upon whether they can muster the effort. Let’s hope for everyone here tonight’s sake that they do, as this night will be one that is remembered – possibly not as a band being the next Vaccines, but as a band marking their territory in an already saturated genre. Perhaps half-arsedness is the answer – to quote ‘Don’t Wanna’, “you don’t have to be anyone if you don’t want to”.

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Luke Halls | @lukewhalls

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