I suspect I’ve banged on about Howlin Rain so often now that my admiration for the band is reaching mildly stalkerish levels. Last night’s show at the Scala, though, was a big leap on from this one that I frothed over a few months ago.
It was good to see them play in front of a bigger crowd, for a start (in this case they were supporting the Meat Puppets, quaintly enough) rather than headlining to a handful of devotees. I think they’ve got a big tour coming up in the States as guests of The Black Crowes, which’ll hopefully get their wonderful music across to a much wider constituency.
Not that the Crowes’ fans will necessarily be able to handle Howlin Rain, even if Ethan Miller is drawing from the same wellspring of ‘70s rock as the Robinson brothers. The thing is, Miller invests everything he does with such puppyish, punkish exuberance that his songs never quite stick to classic archetypes. His bandmates are coping better at keeping up with him here, though, especially the mighty Joel Robinow on organ, and the songs from “Magnificent Fiend” are growing new heft and subtlety as a result of being jammed out every night on tour.
Even in his Comets On Fire incarnation, it’s hard to remember a better show I’ve seen Ethan play. Wooden Shjips were terrific, too. A quartet from San Francisco, I must admit I’ve slept on their debut album a little, after initially recommending their Myspace sometime last year. I’d remembered them as being heavily indebted to Spacemen 3, maybe a little shoey, but happily, their resemblance to the Spacemen is because they draw so richly on the same motherlode of records.
I guess there’s a slight problem here in that they’re one of those bands whose influences are so shamelessly foregrounded: The Doors, Suicide, Neu!, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges. But it’s the way they streamline them all into a kind of rapturous, linear psych that’s so impressive. There’s a collision of sorts between The Exploding Plastic Inevitable and The Family Dog in the way these doggedly hypnotic organ grooves are kept company by a surprisingly jaunty, super-tight rhythm section, then punctuated by Erik Johnson’s reverb-drenched murmurs and his great, stunned, fuzz-heavy guitar solos.
Serendipitously, I discovered a new singles comp by them – “Vol 1” – in my post this morning, which is playing as I write. Specifically, “SOL ‘07” is playing, one of the highlights of last night’s show, a needly, insistent head-nodder that stretches out for some ten minutes and features wild flurries of trumpet from the bassist Dusty Jermier. Very handy band, I think. And the organist looks a bit like Bill Clinton if he’d inhaled, or maybe it was just the lights in my eyes from the mirrorball. . .