Is it just me, or does there seem to suddenly be a surge of classic epic rock song revivalists emerging? Not necessarily new bands, but bands that are just now starting to get wider recognition and appreciation; and sure, brand new bands too. Falling more into the former category is Howlin’ Rain, a San Francisco-based “power quintet” that first emerged in 2004. They take much of their inspiration from the likes of The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, and Love, and make sprawling psych rock like a long distance roadtrip.
Howlin’ Rain is about to release their third album, The Russian Wilds (produced by master producer and icon Rick Rubin), onValentine's Day, so many of the songs they played at Mercury Lounge were off that. Every song was eardrum-blowing loud, and featured heavy spells of instrumental solo journeys. Lead singer Ethan Miller’s voice was a compliment to the accompaniment until “Can’t Satisfy Me Now,” when he started out practically a cappella, and it was clear that he could really sing his heart out, true classic rock style. The sound was still almost unbearably loud, and I’m pretty sure during that song Miller’s voice pierced through the ozone layer, not for a second wavering as he gripped the mic and squeezed his eyes shut tight. Then, when the rest of the band came in it was like a storm completely breaking loose.
The band actually had many moments like that, like the kind that can only be fueled by straight bourbon whisky. The best moments were when Miller and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell were rocking out in sync with their bending guitar harmonies, or when Joel Robinow was on the edge of his seat, tipping his chair so that he was almost face down and jumping into his keyboard, or when every single one of them were completely under their own spell that they were creating. If only every Tuesday night could be like that.
The band right before Howlin’ Rain was D. Charles Speer & The Helix, whose members also hail from San Fran, as well as New Orleans. They had similar psychedelic flair, but with more honky tonk tinges. At the beginning of their set, Mercury Lounge felt a bit like a lonesome country western bar where people go to delay heading straight home in the middle of the week, but as the band go more psychedelic and reverb-heavy, that vibe turned itself around. It was a pleasant surprise when electric guitar player Marc Orleans jumped up from his seat and started wailing on guitar, totally killing it with crazy finger tapping and rapid speed finger picking. They kept it raw and real, and it was kind of too bad there weren’t more wanderlust types holding their beers high.
Howlin’ Rain plays Brooklyn Bowl tonight, then go on to tour pretty much until Sasquatch! in May. See all dates here. D. Charles Speer & The Helix is with Howlin’ Rain at Brooklyn Bowl, and then three more dates after that. Check for updates on their blog.
Photos (c) Kelly Knapp