Blustering set from Howler

*** (3 stars out of 6); May 29 at Lille Vega

There was nothing pretentious about indie band Howler’s show at Lille Vega on Tuesday night. There were no guitar changes, no costume changes. The Minneapolis band even allowed its Canadian support act, Hooded Fang, to borrow their drums for the warm-up set. And before the main act began, Howler’s four members slipped onto stage to tune their instruments and do a quick sound check. The crowd, which had by then filled half of the venue, barely even noticed they were already on stage.

Led by frontman and guitarist Jordan Gatesmith, whose top-heavy hair had a life of its own, the band showed off their brand of thrash surf rock, playing nearly all of the tracks off their debut album America Give Up. From the get-go, it’s plain that Gatesmith has ample bad-ass attitude. His eyes roll back in his head when he sings and he has an endearing twitch that causes him to readjust his guitar strap every now and again. But by their third song, ‘Beach Sluts’, he really lightened up – chattering and smiling at the crowd.

The band churned through their set list quickly, which comes as no surprise for two reasons. Firstly, Howler has only about a dozen recorded songs, and secondly, Gatesmith likes short, sharp shows. The songs rolled on fast and Gatesmith was almost left behind in the intro for ‘Back to the Grave’, either because drummer Brent Mayes’s adrenalin was pumping too much, or Gatesmith was looking for the bottle of Jack Daniels he was periodically swigging from. “Could you get me that whisky?” he asked his band mates.

There was plenty more amusing banter, like when guitarist Ian Nygaard described their touring companions of one month – Hooded Fang – as being like their dads.

“They tuck us in at night and tell us bedtime stories,” Gatesmith joked. Both bands had played in Aarhus the night before and “there were only about three people there,” Gatesmith said. The observation led him to ask the Lille Vega crowd “Is our album out in Denmark?” Visibly chuffed when the audience answered in the affirmative, the showman blew air-kisses to the crowd, and Howler launched into their last song, ‘Back of Your Neck’. There was a symphony of “woo woo woooos” all round.

After the band left the stage and the clapping rang out, this reviewer wondered whether Howler had enough tunes in their kit to muster an encore. But the guys came back on stage for a roaring finale with ‘Black Lagoon’. Gatesmith put down his guitar and thrashed around the microphone stand, before ditching that too and wrapping the mic lead around his neck. He leapt onto the kick drum recklessly, showing why Howler’s music is much more engaging when performed live. One reveller at the front of the stage got caught up in the energy and started moshing, but it didn’t really catch on. After 11 songs and less than 50 minutes on stage, including the encore, Howler stormed off, leaving a blunt but reverberating impression.