Howling Bells - Wolverhampton Little Civic

Earlier this month I attended a date on the NME New Music Tour, a review of which can be found here. Of the four bands who took to the stage, the one I was least familiar with proved to be the highlight of the evening and, having purchased their debut album post-gig, I can safely say they are one of 2006's most exciting new bands. The Little Civic is a tiny venue, about as big as a sixth form common room; hopefully, music fans across the UK will embrace these Aussie newcomers and see that they are upgraded to bigger stages sooner rather than later.

Support came from singer/songwriter Joe Allen and fellow antipodeans The Veils. Originating from Worcestershire, troubadour Allen treated the crowd to a selection of Tom Mcrae-like acoustic-based ballads, accompanied by the gorgeous violin playing of Angharad Jenkins. His voice was incredible, and it was a shame he played to only a half-full room - those who came late certainly missed out. The Veils continued the night's quality output, performing a set of country-blues-rock that warmed the crowd up good and proper for the main attraction.

Recent single Wishing Stone was the first number, and a signifier of what the audience could expect from the rest of the set - a cinematic soundscape made up of traumatic guitars that combine with frontwoman Juanita Stein's soaring voice to deliver one hell of a chorus. The aforementioned Ms Stein is the focal point of the band, the belle of the Bells you might say. She is gothic-rock's answer to Kylie, her titchy frame no indicator of her mammoth presence - she owns the stage despite being pitched between two tall guitarists. Her vocal range is something a pop princess could only wish for, however, cast somewhere between the bluesy husks of KT Tunstall and PJ Harvey. The guitar and drum work is given time to shine also in a set which comprises the majority of the songs featured on their self-titled long-player. Low Happening is a juggernaut slice of rock'n'roll dripping with cool whilst the moody likes of Velvet Girl and Across the Avenue are astonishingly self-assured and effective for a band that have only just released their first album. In Broken Bones and A Ballad for the Bleeding Hearts, the band also have two of the most unsettling but powerful ballads I've heard in a while. The only disappointment of the night is the lack of album highlight In the Woods. Speaking to drummer Glenn Moule before the gig, he informed me it wouldn't be played due to the band still working out the logistics of the track in a live setting - ultimately, though, I had hoped the band would surprise me and throw it in at the last minute.

One can't be picky, however. The ticket cost a fiver, and I got to see a band that are quickly becoming one of my favourite acts of the year. The support was also the best I've seen in a long time - check out some of Joe Allen's songs at www.joeallen-online.co.uk.

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