Star rating: ****

IT is not uncommon for bands to dramatically shift their musical direction. Thus, the gothic pop and country rock of Howling Bells' sublime debut album has given way to a more synthesiser driven approach on the recently released follow-up, Radio Wars. Thankfully, what has not altered is the quality of their live work.

Drawing heavily on Radio Wars, the Australian quartet showed enough to suggest they are not suffering from a changed style. The main reason for this is that frontwoman Juanita Stein's voice remains a superb tool, capable of sounding sultry yet tender, a femme fatale yet fragile.

Although the lyrics often focus on doomed romance, Stein is an engagingly cheerful presence, thanking the audience for lifting her spirits, dancing constantly and strolling through the crowd on, ironically, the evening's weakest number, Golden Web, a song that pushed the group too far down the synth road and bypassed any sort of tune on the way.

Thankfully, that was a one-off diversion. Of the few older tracks played Setting Sun showcased the band's more epic guitar pop, a side that wasn't a million miles away from Coldplay's ilk.

But the evening belonged to the new songs, which mainly rippled with power in a live setting. Into The Chaos brought to mind The Killers if they'd listened to Nick Cave instead of New Order, and the slow-building Nightingale made full use of Juanita's brother Joel's spidery guitar playing. Cities Burning Down was even more brooding, strengthened by Glenn Moule's exemplary, ominous drum beats.

A brief one-song encore followed with the venue's lights dimmed before the group disappeared into the dark, but the brightness of the show could not be diminished.