Live Shots: Howler and the Static Jacks at Hemlock

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Minneapolis’s Howler paused midway between playing songs from its debut album, America Give Up, to take requests from the audience at the Hemlock Tavern Saturday night. There were a few out of nowhere shout-outs, like “White Rabbit,” but the majority of the suggestions were titles by the Strokes.

On hearing the two bands it’s an obvious comparison, although for Howler perhaps an increasingly tiresome one, especially since singer Jordan Gatesmith seemed bored with the selections and quickly returned to the regularly scheduled program, saying “We’ll just play it safe tonight.”

The irony, though, was that if someone wanted to hear the Strokes’ “The Modern Age,” Howler’s opening track of the night, “Wailing (Making Out)”, already came pretty damn close. These comparisons should be taken as complimentary, for as much as the band seems to be borrowing at this still early in its career — and I also pick up heavy touches of the Replacements* — its doing it well, whether in the restrained guitar work or Gatesmith’s deeply droll, resonant voice, that carries each song with crystal clear lyrics, even during a live performance.

Which wasn’t the case with New Jersey’s the Static Jacks, which, despite actually being the most energetic band of the night, seemed to have it directed in strange directions. I’d been a little puzzled watching the band set-up, spending as much time getting its gear in order as arranging some cardboard art with female caricatures, only to knock the pieces down and step on them once the performance began.

It was only later on that I found out the posters had some actual function, as the singer would occasionally pick up a board — with the word “Follow”, coinciding with the song “Into the Sun,” for instance — to apparently subtitle and highlight some generally muddled and indistinct vocals. 

*My request for “Bastards of Young” was also ignored.