By John Curley
Juanita Stein first came to my attention in 2006 when I saw her fronting the band Howling Bells in a performance of the song “Setting Sun” at the London club Koko that was broadcast as part of the live music program London Live. Shortly after seeing that broadcast, I picked up Howling Bells’ self-titled debut album and was quite taken with the songs as well as the country/blues/rock hybrid sound of the band. “Broken Bones,” in particular, from that album is a standout. Not long after that, I discovered that Howling Bells, who are Australian but were based in England, had an earlier incarnation in Australia under the name of Waikiki. They pursued a different direction at that time, with excellent power-pop tracks like “New Technology” and “Complicated” that were included on Waikiki’s 2002 album I’m Already Home.
Howling Bells recorded three more albums: Radio Wars in 2009, The Loudest Engine in 2011, and 2014’s Heartstrings. (Goldmine’s June 2014 review of Heartstrings can be read at http://www.goldminemag.com/reviews/howling-bells-return-form-terrific-heartstrings-album.)
Last year, Stein, a Sydney native who now resides in Brighton, England, put out her solo debut, a terrific 11-track effort titled America. And this year, not falling prey to the dreaded sophomore jinx, she released the outstanding 10-track album Until The Lights Fade. She is currently doing a series of shows in the United States to promote the new album, and the tour brought her and her band to the venue Pianos on Ludlow Street in New York City’s Lower East Side on Friday, November 2nd. The show was Stein’s first-ever solo performance in Manhattan.
Stein’s brother and Howling Bells and Waikiki bandmate Joel Stein, who is the lead guitarist in his sister’s band on this tour, opened the proceedings with a terrific 20-minute solo set. Performing under the name Glassmaps, Joel Stein, accompanying himself on electric guitar, performed songs from the excellent Strangely Addicted album that he released as Glassmaps.
The New York City-based artist Niki Morrisette, performing as VeNika, was up next. Her 45-minute set of laid-back blues rock was received quite well by the crowd. Morrisette told the crowd at one point that the Pianos gig was only her second show as a performer. It was surprising to hear that, since she was very confident and quite funny in her between-song comments. Morrisette’s backing band, which includes Daniel McDowell on bass, guitarist VJ Brown, Tan Brown on backing vocals, and drummer Zack Mullins, is quite excellent and, combined with Morrisette’s great vocals, put on a wonderful show.
Stein took the stage for her headline set right on time at 9 p.m. She and her stellar band, which features her brother Joel on lead guitar and backing vocals, Tim McNally on bass and backing vocals, and drummer Alex Pitt, opened the set with “All The Way” from the new album. It’s a mellow song that highlights Stein’s dreamlike vocals and it pays tribute to Stein’s grandmother, who fled war-torn Eastern Europe for a better life in Australia. Stein, who cut a striking figure onstage with her black hair and all-red outfit while playing her blue and white Telecaster, then went into the fantastic song “Florence,” which appeared on the America album. Stein’s vocal on the song was terrific, and her brother contributed some nice guitar work. The lovely “It’s All Wrong” from the America album followed, and it featured a great vocal by Stein and a really tight performance by the band. It received quite a positive response from the crowd.
A truly amazing “I’ll Cry” from the America album was one of the many highlights of the show, and it featured a really stunning vocal by Stein. Not one to rest on her laurels, Stein upped the ante and followed this with an epic version of “Cool” from the new album that was highlighted by her incredible vocal and the great guitar work by Joel Stein. And then Stein and company delivered an outstanding performance of the single “Easy Street” from the new album that had the band firing on all cylinders as they underpinned Stein’s fantastic vocal.
Stein shifted gears with the dreamy, slower song “Release Me” from the new album and then blew the crowd away with a knockout performance of the America track “Black Winds.” Stein followed that with the strident, propulsive rocker “Forgiver” from the new album. Written with Brandon Flowers of The Killers, “Forgiver,” the album’s lead single, stands in stark contrast to the Americana flavor of most of the rest of the tracks on the album. The performance of the song was quite powerful, and it had the crowd cheering.
The country-rock-sounding “Fast Lane” from the new album received a terrific performance from the band and was highlighted by Stein’s powerful vocal. Stein introduced the next song, “Get Back To The City” from the new album by telling the crowd that it was about a friend of hers that used to live in New York City and had taken up with a guy that Stein did not care for. And she pulls no punches in the song, which begins with the lyrics “Sometimes, the cool girls end up with the a--holes / Just the way it works.” The performance of the song that followed was spellbinding, and it got what may have been the biggest hand of the night from the crowd. Stein and the band closed their set with a slow and sexy version of the title track to the America album that was a fitting end to what had been a stunning performance.
At one point during the Pianos gig, Stein told the crowd about her difficult show that had taken place the previous night in Brooklyn and said that the show had “f---ing sucked.” Not having been at the Brooklyn show, I can’t report on what went wrong with it. Whatever it was, Stein and the band turned around the ill feelings about that show with their incredible and quite memorable performance in Manhattan. I’m writing this over 48 hours after seeing the performance at Pianos, and I’m still buzzing about how terrific the show was.
I didn’t plan on remaining at Pianos after Stein and her band finished their set but decided to stay to check out the band that began the “late show” half of the night of music at Pianos. The band was the all-female New York City-based trio New Myths, and they put on a fantastic and quite engaging 45-minute performance. The crowd loved them. Members of the audience were yelling comments throughout the performance, much to the band’s delight. One of the highlights of the set by New Myths was an outstanding cover of EMF’s “Unbelievable.” The band is comprised of lead vocalist-guitarist Brit Boras, drummer-backing vocalist Rosie Slater, and bassist-backing vocalist Marina Ross. Boras is a terrific frontwoman, Slater a great drummer, and Ross a talented bassist. Ross’ onstage exuberance is infectious, and it brought to mind similar displays by Buzzcocks’ Steve Diggle. New Myths’ set made me want to hear more from the band and it was a nice end to what had been a truly wonderful night of music in Manhattan. New Myths’ tour dates can be found on their Web site at http://www.wearenewmyths.com/tour.
Stein and her band wrap up their slate of shows in the United States with concerts in San Diego on Wednesday, November 7th and Los Angeles on Thursday, November 8th. They then head back across the Atlantic for a pair of concerts in The Netherlands, one in Paris, and nine in the UK, including one in Stein’s current locale of Brighton, England. Further information about Stein’s live shows with ticket and RSVP links can be found on her Web site at https://www.juanitastein.com/live/.
Stein’s Until The Lights Fade album is reviewed in the December 2018 issue of Goldmine, which goes on sale in the USA on Tuesday, November 6th at Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, and select record stores.
Juanita Stein’s setlist at Pianos in New York City on Friday, November 2nd was as follows:
All The Way
It’s All Wrong
Get Back To The City