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I am taking off my coat, seductively lifting up my shirt, and showing Howler my nipples. How the hell did this happen?
I’d come to the Library with the best of journalistic intentions. This was my first assignment as Carolynne Editor, the first big interview of the new SCAN year, the first article I would write with BA (Hons) after my name! I wanted to be clever, to be incisive, to be analytical! I wanted to be Lester Bangs, to be Greil Marcus! I wanted to ask questions about the political implications of their album, about the viability of local music scenes in a global era, about dealing with gallons of hype and publicity at such a young age. I’d even scribbled these questions down in the back of a copy of ‘A Short Introduction to Hegel’, lest the band doubt my intellectual credentials (it was the nearest thing to hand at the time, honest).
But within five minutes of meeting them, it becomes apparent that none of my slightly/extremely stuffy questions are really going to be of any use here. This would not be the noble intellectual assignment I had envisioned; no, instead, it feels a little like being a supply teacher to an especially rowdy Year 9 Religious Studies class… By the time I’ve got out the pocket guide to Hegel, the band have had a quick game of rugby with around an oversized rubber duck, front-man Jordan Gatesmith has drawn some obscene pictures on the Library’s backstage whiteboard (think Homer Simpson multiplied by Jabba the Hut, to the power of boobs) and Ian Nygaard and Max Petrek (guitar and bass) have told us a frankly unpublishable story of how drummer Brent Mayes earned the enviable moniker ‘tsunami cock’. It’s no holds barred backstage rock n’ roll anarchy! It’s around this point that I decide to just roll with the punches, and, at the request of the band, I lift up my shirt…
And so the conversation continues to veer further into uncharted territory. We introduce the band to the exotic mysteries of Jedward, to whom Gatesmith bears a striking resemblance. ‘Hooly shit! I look like “Jedward”! What the fuck are these guys?!’, he exclaims, before running out of the room to find a box of blonde hair dye in an attempt to emulate his new found musical heroes. They offer us their thoughts on English subcultures, noting the number of so-called ‘Tumblr girls’ hanging around in Market Square, and their feelings on chavs (‘now that I understand the term chav, I wanna grow up to be one. I think we should become a chav band, actually…’). Then, when asked if anyone can top the story that earned Mayes his nickname, Petrek steps up to the plate; ‘on the last American tour we went on, and we were outside of like a Super 8 [American hotel chain] or something, and me and my girlfriend were having phone sex and I jerked off in a bush’. It’s hard to know how to react to a tale like that, but we don’t really have to, because Howler have got to get up on stage and play some music!
The set gets off to a lively start with the song that also opened their début album, Beach Sluts; it’s a song that is improved vastly live, thanks to a generally more reckless approach and the addition of plenty of distorted guitar. The distinctive surf-sounding lick that opens the track bounces off the walls and immediately has the front of the crowd moving. Breakout hit ‘This One’s Different’ and the eminently catchy ‘Told You Once’ then get airings, both of them finding a something extra with the help of Mayes’ relentless, thundering drumming. There is a downside to this more aggressive approach, though, as a lot of their songs run together a little too easily, as soaked in reverb and guitar fuzz as they are; and as Gatesmith’s vocals aren’t particularly audible either, it’s hard to know what was actually played.
Fortunately, they break up the songs with some excellent chatter, and this effortless and witty crowd interaction is one of the best things about the show. The Library always makes a great venue for quirky crowd chat (thoughts on the erotic fiction shelf and readings from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are pretty much the norm at Library gigs), but Howler take to their unfamiliar surroundings with incredible ease. Gatesmith recalled a surreal day spent smoking weed and reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story collections in a Minneapolis public library, and the whole band tears into Petrek after he suggests the crowd ‘gets wild’ by burning all the books, just minutes after he had jokingly proclaimed Mein Kampf to be his favourite book. As the set comes to a close Gatesmith promises the crowd ‘One more song… two more songs if we see tits. Legal tits!’ (‘We can’t afford to be picky. Any tits will do.’, replies Petrek), before launching into a raucous version of Back Of Your Neck, and despite a conspicuous lack of boobies (they’d probably had their fill of nipples at the sight of mine earlier, anyway) they returned for a one song encore that was louder, bouncier and rougher than anything they’d played all night. Their music is almost always compared to The Strokes (and with good reason), but this final song seemed to be channelling the emotional rawness and couldn’t-care-less spirit of Pinkerton-era Weezer.
Sure, the set was a little messy and pretty unsophisticated (just like Petrek’s phone sex anecdote), but the brash, unapologetic honesty in their music and their personalities is kind of refreshing. There is no rockstar mystique here, no carefully cultivated media persona; just four guys playing loud music and having a lot of fun whilst doing it. Howler aren’t going to change your world, of course, and in fact they probably don’t want to. But they managed to get Lancaster dancing, and for that they deserve praise.