Howlin Rain: Portland Gig Review

On Friday June 15, 2018, Oakland, California’s “Howlin Rain” hit “Mississippi Studios” in Portland, Oregon for a balls to the wall blues rock total aural assault. The opening act was David Nance, from Omaha, Nebraska, who had a power trio that played some original blues rock and was even joined by “Howlin Rain’s” Ethan Miller to end the opening act’s set. “Howlin Rain” formed in 2004 and is led by singer, songwriter, guitarist Ethan Miller. The band released its first album in 2006 and were currently promoting 2018’s The Alligator Bride, their seventh release. The album’s primary influence, according to Miller was the spirit of Neal Cassady. Cassady was the driver of Ken Keasy’s psychedelic bus “Furthur,” that he drove from California to the New York World’s Fair and back to California again in 1964, while he was stoned on acid, speed, weed and DMT the entire time (“Electric Kool Aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe). Cassady was the real life character for Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarity in his “On the Road” novel.

“Howlin Rain” is comprised of Jeff McElroy on bass & vocals, Dan Cervantes on guitar & vocals, Justin Smith on drums & vocals and Ethan Miller lead vocals and lead guitar. The new album is an intense excursion into hard driving blues rock in the vein of “Lynyrd Skynyrd” meets “Neil Young and Crazyhorse” with a little “Grateful Dead” thrown in. The band played every song off the album, minus the only non authored cover, along with some cuts from a few of their other albums. They began their set with a jam that gave the band an opportunity to limber up over a few minutes before the set began with “Missouri,” a cut from the new album that is a guitar driven excursion with Miller singing,

“Confide in each other
You can’t rely on no other…”

As he and Cervantes play against each other while McElroy and Smith drove the beat double time. “Rainbow Trout, is pure Southern Blues as Cervantes played slide guitar alongside Miller’s screaming Stratocaster. “Death Prayer in Heavens Orchard” reached back to 2006’s eponymous release and was an indictment against humanities dark side accompanied by power chords and energetic flourishes by Cervantes who played lead as Millers prophetic voice sang.

“Born beasts to hunt each other down
Build our churches of blood and murder.”

After the song concluded Ethan pointed towards the balcony that he just discovered and addressed the people sitting there, explaining, “when I was a teenager a lot of stuff happened up there, in the balcony,” as the band dove into “Alligator Bride,” the title song off the new album. Miller and Cervantes strummed “Neil Young and Crazyhorse” driving dissonant rhythms on their guitars that pulled at the emotions as the rhythm section provided the beat that cemented it together. McElroy’s wild thumping bass accompanied Smith’s strident drumming forming the base that the guitar assault was launched from.

Howlin Rain perform in Portland.

“Wild Boys” had Miller and Cervantes taking different avenues of expression with their instruments to weave their guitars into a melody that sounded like a “Grateful Dead” groove, with Ethan picking and Dan playing lead, while the rest of the band soon began jamming the rafters off the venue. “Coliseum” from 2015’s Mansion Songs followed as a semi mellower change of pace occurred, with Cervantes playing country sounding slide guitar while harmonizing with the rest of the group.

Then the band segued into the new release with “Speed” as they began to pick up momentum with Miller and Cervantes once again playing against each, like the banjo players in “Deliverance. They all played an extended jam that the rest of the band eventually joined in on with Miller singing,

“High as helicopters
Flying over a fire on a graveyard run…”

“Coming Down” off the new album closed their set with McElroy dancing across the stage with metallic sounding guitars following his beat alongside Smith’s steady drum beat. They kept up a steady rhythm with guitars playing against each other as they soared into the stratosphere, until they finally concluded and bowed to the audience and left the stage. After a couple of minutes of clapping, screaming and whistling the band came back for an encore.

They came back out and began talking about sleeping late as they began playing “Dancer’s at the End of Time,” from 2008’s Magnificent Fiend. It was a total guitar assault with both axe men rocking as hard as it gets with the intrepid beat of the rhythm section behind them. It was a psychedelic romp, as it was supposed to be, diving back to the roots in the 1960s by melding “Blue Cheer” with the “Electric Flag,” or combining some other acid driven music machine playing to the memory of Neal Cassady.

Review by Bob Gersztyn

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  1. […] My review of the “Howlin Rain” show in Portland was published by “Blues Rock Review” at […]

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