by Robin Owens
Lining up outside Paradise Rock Club, the excitement was nearly tangible. I felt out of place surrounded by people wearing varsity jackets ironically, and overalls with patches, in my brand new Forever 21 tank top. In a sea of James Dean look alike and Indie-Rock Zoe Deschanel-s, I stuck out like a sore thumb. The night air reeked of cigarette smoke and there was a chill that wouldn’t go away but still, there was a buzz. A PR guy came and passed out buttons that said “Property of The Growlers” or “Say No to Beach Goth”, a festival the band is playing this October. In fact, The Growlers organize the festival. They’re more than just a band, they’re a force to be reckoned with.
As the crowd fills the venue, I can feel myself getting swept into the momentum the fans have going. These aren’t casual listeners or bored college kids looking for something to do on a Wednesday night. These are die-hard fans who go to any show they can get tickets to; these are dedicated followers of not only a band but a movement big enough to spin a genre and a festival named after their sound.
The crowd starts getting restless in the anticipation, cheering between every song played over the speakers in hopes the band was coming on. When The Growlers took the stage, the whole atmosphere of the place changed. All in all, the band was the essence of their genre: the suits brought the beach and the frowns brought the goth. The only indication that we weren’t in the late seventies was the obvious outline of the lead singer’s phone in his front left pocket. I had this strange feeling of being between the eras of then and now
The effortless cool vibe the band emulated, as they launched into their show, set the mood instantly. From the drummer, calm and in control from the start, to lead guitarist, Matt Taylor, whose focus rivaled that of a surgeon, the group put on a good show. The faint nod of the bassist’s head was the only indication that he was into his music; no smile, no expression. They gave off the impression they’d done this a million times, but the passion was still there.
Brooks Neilson, the frontman of the band, was in a league of his own. Unanchored by an instrument, he moved freely across the front of the stage. His expression resembled disinterest, but looking closer it was clear he was just more into the music than the sea of faces staring up at him. It’s hard to fault him for that. His voice was clear and controlled. He sang with ease and moved so naturally it was almost like he was born dancing. Even his outdated moves fit the image of the band, a tribute to the days of The Doors both in image and sound.
As the band launched into the title song of their new album, “City Club”, the crowd went crazy. It became more and more clear to me why all these people come to their shows, why they came back to see them perform again and again. Each song was perfectly choreographed, the band members moving and playing in sync. The orchestrations were fine-tuned, and I never felt as though something was out of place. When they did use background vocals, which was rare, the songs were made by them.
The lead singer took a break halfway through the show however, and when he did the mood of the whole room changed. Matt Taylor took over on vocals and, while his voice was pleasant, he lacked the charisma and presence of Neilson. At first I found it disappointing that the band didn’t work without one part of the whole. But then I realized it wasn’t bad, necessarily, just… incomplete.
As the night went on, every song started to blend into the next. The guitar parts were eloquent, the rhythms intoxicating, and the voice sailed above all of it. But soon the applause breaks sounded more like an uneducated audience clapping between movements in a symphony rather than surf-rock fans cheering after separate songs. There were two reprieves from the continuous drone of similar-sounding tunes, and the first one was my favorite of the night and possibly their biggest hit to date: “One Million Lovers.” If there’s one song I recommend you go check out, it’s this one. It’s definitely the catchiest song they’ve got. The other song from the second half of the set that stood out to me was “Empty Bones” because it broke the mold of their other songs.
The concert wound down, and though after a while it had started to wear on me, I was glad I went. I was wowed by the magnetism Brooks Neilson possessed, and I have never heard so many innovative guitar licks from one band. From start to finish the band’s energy remained the same, never dragging or falling flat. All in all, it was a stand out show in my mind. I may not seek out another opportunity to see them again, but every now and then I’ll listen to them when I’m in the mood for some of that home-grown California sound.
EVER HEARD OF THE GROWLERS? SOUND OFF IN THE COMMENTS!