Howlin’ Rain at the Astoria Hotel, 1/9/19
The recently re-vamped Astoria Hotel is becoming the newest go-to place to catch great live music in Vancouver. Located on Hastings a few blocks east of the iconic Rickshaw Theatre, it successfully maintains the atmosphere of a casual neighborhood watering hole while providing locals with a diverse, high caliber selection of musical talent.
Wednesday, Jan. 9 was all about guitar rock. Featuring four stellar acts, the evening started with a little “heavy metal madness” from local threesome Sandstorm. Next up was Killer Deal, with frontman Max Grant tearing into his six string with with a raw fervor that belied his otherwise casual demeanor.
The third act of the night was Wild North, Vancouver’s version of a super band. Led by Fort Langley Native Elliot Way, this quintet featured musicians that are involved in a host of other musical projects both on stage and behind it. They treated the audience to a refined, soulful and maybe a teeny bit twangy hard rock show.
There was a sort of hush that came over the Astoria as the members of California based psychedelic blues band Howlin’ Rain prepared to take the stage. Some watched as the band members perfected their set up, while others were outside to sneak in one last smoke. The first fuzzy strums of guitars during the sound check had them assembling in front of the stage in a hurry.
They opened the set with “Missouri” a single from their latest album, The Alligator Bride. It’s a tune that starts off like a drive into the desert sun with all the windows down and ends in a swampy wreckage of mind-bending, squealing guitar. It’s kind of a masterpiece. One of many in the Howlin’ Rain repertoire.
“Look me in my one good eye
Long grass like tails round our legs”
Lead singer and guitarist Ethan Miller, who we spoke with recently, has smokey vocals that drifted over the robust guitar work of Dan Cervantes, the nimble growl of Jeff McElvoy’s faux fender bass and the rock solid but keep-you on your toes thud of Justin Smith’s beat-keeping.
Howlin’ Rain was formed in 2004 and although The Alligator Bride is their fifth full length album, it’s the first with the current line up. It’s the second album in a trilogy conceived by Ethan Miller a few years back when the band didn’t have any other full time members. It was meant to document the progression of the band as it transformed.
By all accounts, the transformation seems to have completed itself on this second album. Each incarnation of Howlin’ Rain has conjured up it’s own elixir of pixie dust, and this current cast of characters has an effortlessly free-wheeling vibe. The highlights of their live show were in the jams; when this crew unleashes its musical prowess as a unit it’s pretty magical stuff.
The set was packed with songs off of The Alligator Bride, but a few tunes from their older work found their way into the mix.
By the end of the evening the crowd had thinned somewhat. Perhaps four bands on a Wednesday is a little much for a town that has a reputation for being a little low-key. That said, the fans that made it to the wee hours of Thursday morning were a lively bunch – fist pumping, booty shaking and even a little bit of cheering.
The die-hards seemed heartbroken when the evening came to a close so hopefully it won’t be too long before we get to do it all again.