Howlin' Rain at the Mystic Theater, by Carolyn McCoy
Howlin’ Rain (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Words by Carolyn McCoy

The band walks onto the stage, humble and focused. They plug in and tune their instruments amid the murmurs of the crowd before them.

There is a momentary stillness before the onslaught of sound. And then the first chords are stuck, the first bass line released, and the drumbeat leads in with its steady throb and pulse. Then it begins, a tsunami wave of sonic madness is brought forth, and Oakland’s Howlin’ Rain thunders and shakes with the power of their music.

Howlin’ Rain is pure sound. Big, loud, and all-encompassing sound. An epic presence of sound. They walk the line of psychedelic rock, Americana, blues, and thrash rock, keeping a balance within that mash-up of genres to produce some of the best music ever to be smashed into your brain. The band is musically and professionally tight, and there is such an extraordinary dynamic between the players that can only be seen as prodigious. Front man, vocalist and guitarist Ethan Miller led the way at Howlin’ Rain’s recent show at Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre, making space for bassist Jeff McElroy, guitarist Dan Cervantes, and drummer Justin Smith to create music that flows smoothly, yet rips you up on the inside (in a good way).

The band tore through songs that were mighty and soulful, including the boisterous “Missouri,” the bluesy “Alligator Bride,” “Phantom Of The Valley,” and the crunchy yet gentle groove of “Coming Down.”

I speak often of the gifts we acquire from hearing live music; how the musicians we witness give us more than just songs. Howlin’ Rain gives us huge parts of themselves — they give us all they’ve got. The band makes no sacrifices with what they put forth, and that can be felt and heard with the immense sound that they produce.