Looking like refugees from several different bands who all met up in a jail cell after a drunken night gone horribly wrong, it’s north London’s finest pirate bar band Owlls, and they really should be playing in Tortuga in the 17th Century rather than Elephant & Castle. But no matter; by the time they’re a couple of songs in you feel like they may as well be. Bring me the horizon, and why’s all the rum gone?
Every inch the rock’n’roll preacher of doom, frontman Luc growls, howls and yowls his way through a set of rock-solid whiskey-sodden numbers, taking in sea shanties, gypsy dances, gothic terror and all points in between. One moment a mass of flailing limbs,the next, constrained by the stage, throwing himself to the floor, where he kneels and screams at the sky, as if calling on God for salvation, damnation or possibly another double. And you bet God can hear him.
This is big music. The fact that Owlls have mastered that trick, like the Birthday Party and Gallon Drunk before them, of being absolutely watertight yet sounding like at any moment things could descend into total chaos, shouldn’t distract you from just how fucking BIG this music is. Listening to the violin-led near-instrumental “Little Smoke” you could close your eyes and wonder just how those pirates managed to fit an entire orchestra into some dodgy bar in Tortuga. Or alternatively you could wonder just how someone managed to provoke Tindersticks into a chain fight. And while a lot of bands claim their music is soundtracks for non-existent films, listening to Owlls makes me want to make films just so they can do the music. The cowboy-friendly guitar on “DogHead” serves only to convince me further that if anyone ever manages to film the seemingly-unfilmable Blood Meridian, it would be a crime against humanity were they not to have this playing in the background.
But that’s not to say it’s background music, not at all. This is in your face, spitting tobacco in your eyes and killing your dudes. That crazed preacher man in his desert chapel, howling in the face of the storm about a coming judgment? This is what it sounds like inside his head. Only, y’know, a lot more fun. And the crowd are lapping it up, reactions raging from closed eyed dreaming to rabbit-in-the-headlights WHAT THE FUCK?, but in a good way. If they didn’t come across as being such nice people in between songs, Owlls would be one hell of a scary band. None more so than on crowd favourite “Raindrops”, an epic stomp that sounds like the results of a pretty messy lock-in during which Tom Waits manages to convince a really fucked William Burroughs to get up and dance on the table, and several people leave in bodybags. You know. A Saturday night thing. Ending in a near-polka of which Gogol Bordello would surely approve, and containing the wonderful couplet “He said there’s no light at the end of the tunnel / I said fucking go down and light it yourself”, being inspirational, funny, and FUCK YEAH all at the same time, Raindrops is an instant classic, and it’s surrounded by similar rough musical diamonds.
Right now you can go and see Owlls for a couple of quid. Do so, because if there’s any justice in the world, very soon they’ll be playing somewhere you have to have the resources of the Spanish navy to buy a drink. Seriously, they are MADE OF AWESOME. It’s like drinking grog with gypsy pirates in that town that gets painted red in High Plains Drifter. It’s that good.
-Deuteronemu 90210 and a bottle of rum-