Howler and the art of mouthing off

Say what you will about Howler, but they can probably say it better. For all of the local criticism the Minneapolis surf-garage act has received for not paying their dues or being too forthright, none of it seems to focus on their abilities as a live act. After personally experiencing them for the first time last week in Austin, it's easy to see why.

Howler performed with messy aplomb to a crowd at Bar 96 in the midst of excessive product placement by a major purveyor of canvas sneakers. Whenever they weren't striking mod poses and swishing their carefully cropped locks about, the guys -- especially singer Jordan Gatesmith and bassist France Camp -- were unloading a barrage of amusing banter.

Early on, Gatesmith admonished the crowd: "I'm not saying we're god-sends, but more people should come over to the stage. This is a music festival. You can go and get drunk at the bar any time." Then, he added as an aside, " We fucking suck, so whatever."

Later on, British guy standing in front shouted between songs, "That was really good!" And Gatesmith sneered back, "Don't lie."

Still, as these young men with the pimples of youth in plain sight unpacked material from America Give Up and EP This One's Different, it was clear that this sneering contempt for themselves is an asset. First of all, it's a solid wall between them and getting too fluffed up by positive writings found in the U.K. or discouraged by the commenters' screeds against them brewing locally. And second, it makes for a great excuse to just throw your body around a stage like a rag doll with little regard for the bruises incurred. 

Later on, France Camp rambled about his misadventures doing blow with DMX, and Gatesmith tried to rally those in attendance to join him for the Jesus and Mary Chain performance later that night. During "Back of Your Neck" and its fake ending, Camp put his instrument goofily his head, and the guys slid off the stage and flopped onto the turf floor of the venue. The night then wrapped with what Gatesmith dubbed a "pussy song," "Told You Once." In all cases, they were poking at us, daring us to yell at them, as they hopefully always will be.

Howler and the art of mouthing off
Photo by Erik Hess

If there was any lagging effect on the young quintet from Gatesmith's comments about the Minneapolis music scene -- he and the 4onthefloor's Gabe Douglas reportedly met up during the fest -- it wasn't visible. His rolled up sleeves and his expensive haircut and his turquoise guitar and a few loogies aimed at the stage led his band through what the British guy and I later agreed was "massive."

Anyone who actually listened to America Give Up wouldn't be surprised by these antics anyhow. The GBV-ish "Free Drunk" has its vocals obscured under a load of effects, but it seems to touch on roaming the Turf Club and getting out of town.

One ear-catching passage: "It's the same song every day/ throwing back another beer and pressing the play/ so who's Picked to Click and what does it matter at all? and later "It's time to join the club of every has-been in town."

Alternatively, they seem to have started their own club. Rough Trade contracts and magazine stories may come and go, but this fuck-all attitude is what's going to keep Howler vital and alive.

Read more:
Howler and the hometown hate debate
Howler's cranky America Give Up viral marketing guy debuts
The 4onthefloor: Howler must've actually listened to our record
Howler clears New York Times hurdle handsomely

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