Live Review – The Howlies at Soda Bar [15 July]

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Photos by Mike Baker

Performing in front of a small crowd, on a small stage, in a small bar allows a band to really show what it’s made of. There’s no deep, noisy crowd or looming sound system to create a sense of majesty and distance between the performers and the audience. A small venue puts the band and the audience on even ground (figuratively and often literally), and personality and rapport with fans become major factors.

This can be a real problem for some acts. This is an advantage for a group like The Howlies. The youthful foursome from Atlanta, Georgia took to the stage at The Soda Bar in Normal Heights on Wednesday night and delivered a quick, upbeat set with very little downtime. The band completed a brief sound check and segued into a raucous, sunny opening number that set the tone for the rest of the performance.

The Howlies have a sound that’s hard to place within the current music scene. On the surface, they’re a standard lo-fi, garage-rockin’ indie band; but that certainly doesn’t sum up all that they are. Some of the freshest and most enjoyable moments of their performance veer into a sort of modernized doo-wop style, complete with a slow, steady beat and pitch-perfect vocal harmonies. These guys clearly have a wide range of influences, and experiment freely with a variety of styles. But somehow, their performance never sounds like an eclectic musical mish-mash; it comes across as a cohesive whole.

The band’s live presence matches their sound. Each of the members holds his place on the stage, but drummer Aaron Wood is the appropriate center of the show. Often letting his broad smile linger throughout the performance (it’s not still uncool to look like you’re having fun on stage, is it?), Wood did the lion’s share of the singing, accompanied in large part by guitarist Justin Brooke. The attitudes of both the band and the crowd conveyed clearly that The Howlies’ live show is purely about having fun.

The Howlies followed a pair of interesting two-piece bands on the The Soda Bar’s stage. The night opened with Meseta, a drum and guitar duo that looked way too young to get past the bouncer, but carried a raw energy and enthusiasm that it’s hard to find in more experienced acts. Austenitic took the stage second and roared through a brief set. The Seattle-based drum and base pair delivers a unique sound that could give most five-piece heavy metal acts as run for their money.

The night closed with Witt, a very impressive three-piece group. Their abrupt instrumental set capped the show perfectly, and hopefully this San Diego-based band will be a part of the local scene for a long time to come.

Despite the strength of other acts on the bill, the boys from Georgia were the obvious center-piece. The Howlies are clearly ready for bigger things, but they’re more than welcome to wallow in the bar scene for a while longer.


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