My ticket said “Howler [USA] with Zulu Winter [UK]”. It was only once at the door that a last minute headliner had pushed the other two down the billing, as American blues pop outfit Friends had been announced as the main event.
Zulu Winter were on first, serving the best of their debut album Language with a gentle confidence and energy that makes them so recognisable. Their strengths lie in producing catchy hooks with easy choruses, the repetitions ringing out to appease the very trendy Melbourn-ite crowd. The London five-piece chose to balance their set with one hit then one album track consecutively, including We Should Be Swimming, Let’s Move Back To Front and recent single Silver Tongue.
The intimacy of the Corner Hotel was perfect for Zulu Winter to demonstrate how much each song evolves during the performance, creating a balance where their intelligent lyrics are not drowned out by the instruments. A combination of disjointed beats, extended synths, complex riffs, a swinging, swaying bassist and the haunting voice of singer Will Daunt are what set them apart from other bands of a similar ilk.
That the boys arrived in Melbourne 24 hours prior to the gig, battling with jet-lag, damaged equipment (the result of recent legislation ruling out instruments as hand luggage) and being called on-stage earlier than announced, I found them to be very impressive indeed.
Howler could easily be described as making waves because this is how some of their music sounds, the sort of garage-surf rock that American bands put out so frequently, but rarely with such vigour. Howler are the sort of band who want to put on a show and be remembered, taking time to rib on the crowd in between songs and get them jumping again during them. Touring their second album America Give Up [Rough Trade] the Minnesota four-piece turned up in beach gear, vests and shorts, in the middle of Australia’s winter, obviously anticipating the sort heat they would generate throughout the set.
Accelerating through songs like their most recent single This One’s Different, they seemed a bit too cocky for the album material they put out, possessing all the grunge but less of the rhythm of their better known releases. Signing off their set with signature tune Back Of Your Neck, the crowd were rewarded with the prospect of getting on stage and dancing along with the band. So about 30 of them did just that, much to their delight and Howler kept right on playing. If you want to let your hair down and go a little crazy, without worrying how accomplished it sounds, I’d recommend checking them out. Both Zulu Winter and Howler are touring through Europe, as well as playing at both Reading and Leeds Festivals later next month.
Friends on the other hand were unfortunately a bit disappointing. They failed to sound as polished and clear-cut as their recorded material, which is a shame because they’re a refreshing addition to contemporary music that is hard to pin in any one category. They’re a sort of lo-fi blues, pop, funk outfit, with front-woman Samantha Urbani offering up a sultry vocal set that entices you in. However her gyrating on stage, lovely as this is to see, doesn’t detract from the music sounding out of sync in comparison to the songs I’ve grown to love over the past year.
I’ve read rumours that a band member, a guitarist, quit before their flight to Australia which may explain why (not confirmed), so if this is true then perhaps I’m being a little harsh. The energy in the room had subdued, probably because it would after following Howler, and despite my criticisms the large crowd that came to see Friends seemed to really enjoy them. I enjoyed Mind Control, the audience loved I’m His Girl and my personal highlight from them was Friend Crush but I can’t help wishing they could have put on a stronger show.
Maybe it is just me, but personally the band order should have been in reverse.