Posted by Warren Barner.
Reviewed on 21st September 2011.
Live at Cockpit on Sunday, 18th September 2011
It's been five years since the bells tolled to announce the eponymous album of this Australian gang of four.
Then, the NME swooned over the country-gothic tinged mix of the London-based band, impressed by the cinematic qualities of a record which oozed darkness and light, moodiness and melody.
Three years later the tone changed and the snipers were out in numbers for the lighter and spacier Radio Wars which metaphorically bombed at the box office, failing to make the waves promised by their debut.
Howling Bells appeared to have got the message as only Cities Burning Down from Radio Wars got an airing during the band's performance at The Cockpit's second room.
It's the fourth leg of a low-key six-date UK tour to plug their third offering The Loudest Engine - produced by The Killers bassist Mark Stoermer - which is pitched by lead singer Juanita Stein as "a modern psychedelic record - our grown up record".
The album's mature opener, Charlatan, gets the night off to a dull start but it picks up with the swampier Blessed Night, brought to life by Joel Stein's gothy guitar riff. The atmosphere stays dark for Cities, but bassist Brendan Picchio, now looking more like Alex James than Alex James, isn't happy as he ticks off the sound man for a monitor which is "talking shit the whole time".
The band moves into the wonderfully trippy Setting Sun, probably their best song although not necessarily the strongest live and which is slightly off key tonight. Juanita gives the audience a few flowy half-hearted hand movements on Secrets - the start of five songs from the new album - which is followed by the impressive Sioux, an Alanis Morrisette-ish song hitching a ride with All About Eve.
More monitor problems and Alex, sorry Brendan, is getting annoyed but Juanita cools things down with talk of love being in the room and a strong rendition of The Faith - one of the best songs from the set.
Stein pays her odd homage to Kate Bush in Gold Suns, White Guns, which starts messily but starts to motor until the car stalls with the wooden Loudest Engine. The ignition may have failed there, but the sparks return on a Ballard for the Bleeding Hearts, country mixed with spaghetti western around a lonesome camp fire.
Broken Bones goes down a storm and Juanita cannot resist telling us we are the "fucking coolest crowd of the tour". Her eyesight clearly isn't as good as her singing judging by a few amongst the throng! New single Into the Sky, both harmonious and discordant, is a belter and we get the big finish with The Wilderness - a cliched climax as Juanita leaves the stage to leave the rest for one of those pointless jam that are just so... fruitless.
They make up for it in the encore with a great version of the stand-out Low Happening and polish the evening off with the poppy Live On, the accomplished Joel extracting an echoing keyboard sound from a guitar that has dominated a really decent set.
And the support acts didn't disappoint us either. First up were Laboratory Noise, a local seven-piece that trawl the universe with their shoe-gazing brand of psychedelic space rock. Paul McNulty and Kerry Ramsay may not have the strongest voices, the light show could have been better and they may have one guitarist too many but they have an ear for a tune all brought together by the synths of Adam Watson. Their debut album When Sound Generates Light (great name) is definitely worth checking out.
But the voice of the night and surely one for the future belonged to Canadian Al Spx, the alter-ego of her London-based band Cold Specks (her name is actually Al Specks which is surely better than the contrived Spx). Possessing a voice more Deep South than Toronto she held us enthralled with a sound she describes as doom soul. She informs us she has nothing to sell, although melancholic single Holland is being released on October 17. Spx starts her set by filling in for her absent drummer while holding an acoustic guitar (something the other guitarist and cellist have to do later on) and finishes with the spine-chillingly haunting Steady which reaches a fantastic crescendo. Go and see them.