The Futureheads/Howling Bells, Astoria, London

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The Independent Culture

"We were worried no one was going to turn up," confessed Barry Hyde, the lead singer of these post-punk, 1970s/1980s throwbacks from Sunderland, who were dropped by their record label, 679 Recordings, two weeks ago. He needn't have been anxious - the Astoria was rammed full of The Futureheads' faithful. The same couldn't be said for their unfortunate support act, the Howling Bells. They didn't seem to be able to muster a small minibus of fans, and the crowd were largely unmoved by their retro blend of Jesus and Mary Chain and PJ Harvey.



If this was a battle of the bands contest, The Futureheads' three-minute thrash-abouts would win hands down. However, the Howling Bells were a shade more interesting. Juanita Stein's vocals were occasionally silky and sumptuous, particularly on "A Ballad for the Bleeding Hearts" and "Velvet Girl". And their bassist, Brendan Picchio, was a hoot as he pulled a series of Status Quo-type shapes and whirled his axe with a Pantera-like ferocity. He appeared to be in a completely different band from the country-folk/blues-goth act he was actually in. After half an hour, they swiftly departed. Their time will come.

The Futureheads opened with "Yes/No" off their disappointingly received second album, News and Tributes. It's typical of all their material - snappy, full of feverish urgency and relentlessly energetic. On every song, the four lanky lads seemed to be imitating the video to Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" - there was plenty of body swerving and knee action, but without the catchy hook. And the words, which are occasionally witty and astute, as on "First Day" - "This is a job that people die for/I hope that you're ready for the next stage" - got drowned out in the frenetic guitar playing. But the crowd adored it.

The band crammed in as much as they could, blasting through "Cope" , "Fallout" and "Skip to the End", three of the more memorable tracks from their new album. They then bizarrely divided the room down the middle (I haven't witnessed this desperate tactic since the Eighties) for some chanting on their disagreeable cover of Kate Bush's " Hounds of Love". But their young fans savoured every last angular chord. They could not get enough of this unpretentious, spiky band, who come across like a deranged mix of Gang of Four, XTC, AC/DC, The Jam and Big Country.

Ultimately, they won the battle tonight, but one cannot help think their victory is fleeting. Their future doesn't look so assured.

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