An icy wind blows cold straight down Swan Street, the sky is dark and the promise of rain looms large. The ominous weather seems only fitting for the opening night of the Howling Bells national tour, kicking off at the Corner Hotel Wednesday night.

Buckley Ward takes the stage early, bringing with them a geeky charm that is at odds with their extraordinary talent. After a slightly nervous start, the small but curious crowd were quickly won over by their catchy and very, very danceable tunes. The Melbourne locals bring to mind The Drums and Vampire Weekend, minus the hipster. Their glasses are not just for show. Closing off their set with “So Pretend”, the only of their songs available for download, they promise to be back with their first album in March of next year. Buckley Ward may be your new soundtrack to summer and definitely a band to keep an eye out for.

As the crowd grows NSW outfit Georgia Fair begin a set that is, for want of another word, mesmerising. In a time when reality TV dancers cum singers Justice Crew are storming the charts with auto tuned garbage, the gorgeously low-key harmonies between lead singer Jordan Wilson and guitarist Ben Riley are a bright light in the dark. Their rendition of “Time”, with its sparse keyboard intro and stripped to the bone, raw vocals sent chills up many a spine. Lead single “Where You Been?” from their debut album All Through Winter was another standout. Georgia Fair is one of very few bands that actually sound better live. Intense and at times heartbreaking their set was an exercise in sparse perfection and restraint.

Fresh from a European tour supporting indie favourites, Elbow, Howling Bells are back on home soil with a vengeance. Howling Bells – Juanita Steen on vocals and rhythm guitar, Joel Stein on lead guitar, Brendan Picchio on bass and Glenn Moule on drums – released their third album The Loudest Engine in September and have toured tirelessly since.

From the moment the squeaky red curtains around the Corner Hotel cracked open, it was clear the band was glad to be back and the audience was more than happy to have them back. Opening with “Charlatan”, they did not come back up for air until a good few songs later when they seemed to realise there was an audience in front of them. “It’s a pleasure to be starting our tour at the Corner Hotel” smiled Juanita to an approving crowd before taking us back to where it all began with a cracking rendition of “Setting Sun”.

Like a tiny siren, she lures us all closer, daring us to take another step in the wrong direction before driving us back with a snarling guitar as Joel wails menacingly in the background. Tearing through “The Faith”, we see more of Stein’s flowerchild dance moves until it is time for her to switch back into rock chick mode. Lead single from “The Loudest Engine”, “Into The Sky” closed a solid, tight and incredibly impressive set. Much to the delight of the crowd Howling Bells take to the stage again with a quick encore, finishing with the bitter kiss-off “Low Happening.”

While their set was not without its hiccups (Juanita’s guitar strap decided to quit mid song and there was a bass that staunchly refused to tune) and at times slightly flat it was clear to all that the Howling Bells are back. The message was clear; they want you to join them on the dark little fairytale they are only just beginning to tell.

– Madison Thomas