June 27, 2010
The Hype: The Growlers specialize in summer anthems with a minor key, or as they call it, "beach goth"-perfectly suited to the recent string of hazy days and chilly nights. They might also be the greatest band named after a shit. As the band tells it, "One day, Brooks [Nielsen] came home and Matt [Taylor] was takin a big growler in the outhouse and the rest is history."
Fresh from a tour with Dr. Dog and the SXSW festival, Long Beach natives the Growlers circle back to SoCal starting with the Detroit Bar.
The Show: The Growlers delivered a hell of a night, packing a small set with their unique brand of psychedelic/surf/garage slow jams. In less capable hands, this cocktail of '60s throwback could have been unpalatable. But their sound is refreshing instead of tired-they opt for crisp output over lo-fi; tight songwriting over layers of fuzz.
They started with the shuffling "Tijuana," a bleak story told through Brooks' plaintive crooning about a "city of wasted dreams" and Matt's looping guitar lines. This set the pace for the rest of the show: yes, these guys play fugues for beach parties, but strangely, it makes for a really good time.
Even though the other band members contribute their fair share of talent, it's clear that the band is really held together by Brooks and Matt. Brooks has an enigmatic stage presence, accenting his soulful voice with stiff poses and gestures. Matt is usually just over his shoulder, coaxing his guitar into new riffs and refrains.
That said, the band reaches new levels of sweetness when the other guys join in for back-up moaning, or, as in "Acid Rain," for new vocal harmonies mirroring the trickling guitar lines.
Even though most of their songs have a slow tempo and an ethereal, echo-ey quality, they charged forward with an infectious energy that turned the crowd into a throbbing mass.
Swaying couples held each other tight; guys took off their shirts and pushed against each other; girls shook their hips and held their drinks high. A particularly enthusiastic girl jumped onstage and danced with the band members, who placated her with bemused smiles while glancing down at their instruments. Brooks confessed that onstage, as in life, it's "easy to get distracted by good-looking girls."
For their encore, The Growlers went with the rambunctious "Barnacle Beat," which worked the crowd up into a final frenzy. By the end, I could nearly taste the sea - or was that just the dirt and sweat dripping off the dudes in front of me?
In between sets, the Detroit Bar speakers blared garage rock cult heroes like The Seeds and The Nerves, reminding throwback fans of the source material's raw appeal.
Opening were the Entrance Band, headed by Guy Blakeslee and featuring the still-cute lady bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle/Zwan). Their nostalgia skewed a little more towards seven minute stoner jam sessions; they fell in line more with Led Zeppelin and Jim Morrison than The Ventures and Lux Interior. Which is to say-sure, they were rocking out, but their set wasn't nearly as fun as that of The Growlers. Lighten up a little.
Critic's Bias: The first quarter of my college radio show focused on surf and surf-inspired music. I'm pretty much a sucker for this stuff. Give me some reverb and cloying allusions to California, and I'm there.
The Crowd: A whole lot of dudes who looked like they listened to classic rock radio in high school, then grew up and tried to make that '70s nostalgia part of a disaffected hipster routine. And a lot of girls in Forever 21 club-wear. However, this mix is not too out of the ordinary; there was no animosity and an abundance of positive vibes.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I saw a video of Bettie Page doing a striptease, and it was cool, because it wasn't as sexy as it was adorable. Why can't more strippers be adorable?"
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Random Notebook Dump: Brooks Nielsen has a tattoo of a palm tree on his arm, which made me think of Nathan Williams from Wavves and his recent tattoo that proclaims that "summer is forever." If only...if only.
Sea Lion Goth
Man with No God
Habit of Dread
Old Cold River
Someone Something Jr
Barnacle Beat (encore)
By the Way: The Growlers continue their California onslaught this weekend, playing shows at The Smell in Los Angeles and at JDee's Landing in Palm Springs.