If you’re going to stamp your name on a band, you might as well look the part. Angela Perley, namesake of Columbus, Ohio-based Angela Perley & The Howlin’ Moons, wears a vintage dress, a trilby with a feather, and plays a sparkly orange guitar. Her handsome group has a strong hat game and an even stronger stage presence, backed up by a near-swaggering delivery of Americana that leans more toward Tom Petty bite than Jeff Tweedy moan.
Though Perley’s recent Jack of the Wood show was a long way from home, there was more than one person in the crowd who knew all the words to her songs. Plenty more were dancing in the open space between stage and bar. And even in the venue’s small space, the band managed a big and balanced sound, with good levels and the kind of tasteful playing that comes from long tours and lots of practice. The polish of the Howlin’ Moons allowed for flourish, too. Billy Zehnal’s bass is supple and sturdy — an additional voice as much as a backbone to each song. Maxwell Button’s drumming, dynamic and nimble, kept the energy strong throughout the set.
The band was touring its new album, Homemade Vision, mixing old favorites with new songs like “White Doves,” the album’s lead track. There are nods to both Lucinda Williams and Victoria Williams in Perley’s songwriting, and if her sound leans toward roots music, there are hints of swing, rockabilly and country threaded throughout. But it’s the front women’s attitude that telegraphs in lyrics like, “I don’t believe in nothing real / It’s all a kind of perception, yeah / I want to live just how I feel, I want a heart of a Cadillac.”
That assertion is backed up by Chris Connor’s guitar parts. The band’s bio describes Connor’s playing as “fuzz, crunch, twang and bang.” It’s like the spirit twin to Perley’s words and voice — the two meet in some electric middle and nudge each other on to crushing, aching, screaming, sweating new places. At Jack of the Wood that swirl and bombast culminated in a cover of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” which — perhaps surprisingly — works well as a country-rock song. The bartender was singing along. The dancers were heating up the small room. And just when it couldn’t get any better, Perley played a solo on a bowed saw. Apparently, when you’re a total badass, that’s how you play AC/DC.