trippin’ with howlies record/show review

by lydiasee

Trippin’ with Howlies is a rare diamond in the rough rock ‘n’ roll album that has a timeless quality to it, while representing a new and fresh perspective. Recorded in the California desert with producer Kim Fowley (Modern Lovers, the Germs, the Runaways), Trippin’ represents musicians who are more inclined to extend and build upon the rock ideals of the 50’s and 60’s with slices of punk and new wave thrown in, rather than replicate a tried and true formula to achieve a successful ‘vintage’ feel for a contemporary record. “Walk on Home” and “Adaptation” are both prime examples of their ability to capture the sounds of a former era authentically.  While drawing influences from many sources, Howlies site Velvet Underground, Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, and Satan, among others, the band maintains a unique and unholy blend of sound and lyric that’s whimsical and inspired, yet still edgy.

During a recent visit to Asheville, NC, I got a chance to spend a few days with Howlies and attended two great performances. First, an in-store at Static Age Records on Lexington provided the small but intimate crowd a glimpse into the multi-faceted vocal harmonies that these guys are excellent at achieving. The almost acoustic set (save for Matt Forsee’s plugged in bass) offered a sampling of songs from their album (which was released that day Feb 2, 2009), and ended with “Aluminum Baseball Bat,” (the silliest but most vocally impressive) which Aaron Wood (vocals, drums) pre-empted with a disclaimer that his voice was rough from touring, though it was spectacularly sung and performed. It was a unique opportunity to hear the intricacies of their lyrics and vocals before heading over to the New French Bar later that night for a proper electrified show with Asheville heavyweights the Sex Patriates and Sunshine SS.

The New French Bar show began with a quick set of short songs from Sunshine SS.  Due to the moderate blizzard that evening, all three bands played on Howlies set-up, and the bar was not as full as originally expected, though full enough for some considerable moshing-type action. As the night got colder, snowier, and rowdier, Sex Patriates took the ‘stage’ and all hell broke loose, including floor crawling, glass-breaking, bar-dancing, and many more forms of raucousness.  By the time Howlies took the helm,  the crowd was sufficiently warmed up, and “Sea Level” just raised the heat even more. It took a few minutes to adjust to the polished performance of Howlies after the insanity of the previous two bands, but Howlies deftly took charge and charmed the pants off some members of the crowd. “Chimera” was a substantial crowd-pleaser with it’s catchy chorus and dance-able drums, and “Aluminum Baseball Bat” although not as vocally charged as the acoustic version at Static Age, was seamlessly performed. The highlight of their set was “Whiskey Night,” which ensued a veritable riot, and possibly increased whiskey sales at the bar.

Hopefully, after the rigorous touring schedule Howlies has set up for themselves in the next few months (ending with SxSW in Austin TX), they will get a chance to spend some more time in Asheville, and possibly play a venue with ample dancing room, as they have the right recipe for hips-a-shakin’ and ridiculous amounts of fun.