A few songs into their set at the Red Palace on April 13, Howler lead singer Jordan Gatesmith broke from his usual detached silence to introduce the next track.
“This next song is called Beach Sluts,” Gatesmith said. “It’s about all of you, so take that how you will.”
Gatesmith’s sneering monotone and “don’t care” attitude cast him as the perfect poster boy for the surf-rock genre.
But as the band launched into the opening song on their new album “America Give Up,” it was clear that there’s more behind Howler than the strung-out vocals and reverb-drenched guitar drone of most surf-rock bands.
Gatesmith, and Howler in general, aren’t the stereotypical surf-rock band — they’re what every surf-rock band wishes they were.
Howler’s plethora of influences was on display during the intimate, perfectly executed set at the Red Palace. Gatesmith jumped between a detached Lou Reed-esque drone, an angsty punk snarl and an echo-heavy croon, perfecting all three. On guitar, Gatesmith dipped into the original surf-rock, adding an old-school Beach Boys and Chuck Berry flavor, especially to the band’s latest single “Back of Your Neck.”
Meanwhile, guitar player Ian Nygaard added his own tribute to surf-rock’s past with reverb-drenched Dick Dale style staccato mixed in with a more Wavves-like fuzz drone. Drummer Brent Mayes kept the energy up throughout the set, with rolling drums so powerful that he broke a cymbal at one point.
Altogether, the band’s many influences came together to create something at once recognizable yet new and exciting. Despite Gatesmith’s detached demeanor, the show had a palpable energy comparable to an early Ramones show, where you can hear all of the bands that came before them but at the same time know that something original and big is happening on stage.
Also like the Ramones was the quickness of Howler’s set, which was perfectly executed, but ended way too soon. Granted, with their new album being the perfect summer soundtrack, any set that ended before September probably would have felt too short.
“America Give Up” may singlehandedly make this a good summer, as it is the musical equivalent of driving too fast out of your high school parking lot in your first car with the windows down and the stereo all the way up.
Although this set was in the relatively small Red Palace, don’t expect Howler to return to such a small venue anytime soon. With a tour in support of The Vaccines under their belt, Howler showed this weekend that they have the talent to fill the biggest venues by the time the Minneapolis-based band makes it back to D.C., if they should be doing just that.
Of course, if they don’t achieve the level of notoriety they deserve, it will be more of a loss for music fans than it will be for the band who, if Gatesmith is any indication, probably don’t care.