Howling bells, Asobi Seksu, Red Light Company

Islington Academy, London Monday, February 9

It takes a brave bridesmaid to try and upstage über-fox Juanita Stein at her own NME Awards Show, but flaxen-locked frontman Richard Frenneaux of Red Light Company is just that kind of pushy Patricia. They might be first on, but RLC are verily pushing at the walls for stadium space. Their glossy angst-rock is devastatingly convincing on tracks such as ‘Meccano’. Well, if you can ignore the fact that their drummer is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s doppelgänger, that is. They close with an incongruously large sense of occasion and their skinsman goes off to kill a hand-reared pig. Probably.

A tough act for Asobi Seksu to follow, you might think, but Yuki Chikudate is not a lady to quail lightly, despite her ethereal tones. The stardusted dreampop of tracks such as ‘Familiar Light’ from new album ‘Hush’ spins round the room until we’re all dizzy, although the more muscular, MBV-style tracks from the earlier albums connect with a more visceral swoon.There’s only one dark lady that can satisfy

us tonight, though, and that’s Howling Bells’ “JUUUUUUUUANITA!”

“Hey, drunk guy,” responds bassist Brendan Picchio drily to the enamoured cat-call from the depths of the crowd.

“Yes, baby,” intercedes the lady in question, smoothly. “Tell me something interesting…”There’s a pause as drunk guy considers

her frank challenge. “You look like a bloke!”“You get brownie points for that,” she laughs, blunt Aussie wit breaking through her ’50s-bad-girl glaze. “This one is dedicated to the one I love…” The gender-confused love floods back from all directions: from a slightly halting start on ‘Blessed Night’, Sydney’s darkest daughter and sons have taken command with new single ‘Cities Burning Down’. Their new stuff from second album ‘Radio Wars’ is airier, so it’s almost a shock when ‘Wishing Stone’’s doomy tones rip from the stage. Such is the groomed, gothic classiness of their image, it’s easy to forget just how exciting Howling Bells are live, and the addition of electronics and audible ambition to their witchy charms only makes them more so.

They can even fluff their crowning glory, ‘Setting Sun’, and be forgiven when there are newbies as good as spare, synthy torch song ‘Nightingale’, which recalls early Goldfrapp. Closing with a quick one-two of ‘Low Happening’ and ‘Into The Chaos’ (plus a cheeky take on Britney’s ‘Toxic’), Howling Bells leave us helplessly wedded to their

dark vision.

Emily Mackay