THE GROWLERS @ HOUSE OF BLUES, ANAHEIM
Photos by Maximilian Ho Words by Madison Desler
“We always come back, baby. It’s good to be home,” Brooks Nielsen said to the sold-out crowd at the House of Blues in Anaheim last night. It’s been a complicated year for Nielsen, guitarist Matt Taylor, and the rest of The Growlers, filled with highs (signing with Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records, finding a new sound with City Club, selling out more dates than ever before), and lows (lineup changes, a shitty and controversial Beach Goth festival, plus the lawsuit that followed with The Observatory in Santa Ana) making this return to a packed venue on their home turf all the more significant.
Nielsen and the boys charged through a shockingly extensive setlist (3 hours and 4 minutes!), including a whopping 11 songs off the new album. The Casablancas-produced City Club, with its slick synths and glossy production, takes the band away from the beach and into the heart of downtown, a polarizing move causing some to cry “sell-out,” while most feel a mix of pride and optimism that the boys are finally growing up.
The band has slowed down a tad bit. Nielsen is married and has a baby. But what they’ve lost in wildness, they’ve gained back ten times over with a new level of professionalism, a tight and polished live sound, complete with three female backup singers. That makes their drunken, cross-dressing shows of yesteryear, seem like another lifetime. Like it or not, everybody’s gotta grow up sometime, and if that means top-notch shows with a marathon 40-song setlist, grumpy Growlers fans should get the hell on board.
Survival means evolving, and the evolution of the band from “Beach Goth” pranksters to legitimate pros was hard to ignore as early cuts like “Empty Bones,” “The Moaning Man From Shantytown, ”and “Wet Dreams” mingled with the dancey groove of “Dope On A Rope,” a new, reggae-tinged winner called “Late Bloomers,” and a funk-filled, Studio 54-worthy mashup of “City Club” and “Chinese Fountain” that couldn’t have been farther from the grungy Costa Mesa warehouse they came out of.
No matter what incarnation you prefer, there’s always Nielsen, sliding around on stage like a gutter Willy Wonka, his inimitable charm and gravelly croak endearing everyone to him all over again. “Salud friends,” he said warmly after “Hiding Under Covers.” “Sure is a great welcome home party you made for us.” As he started into “One Million Lovers,” the crowd instantly recognizing it from the first two Farfisa notes, one couldn’t help but think he wrote it just for this moment. “Nothing stays the same/There’s always change/But you and I will remain,” he sang, like a promise that no matter what, these beach rats will never forget where they started.
“Ok, so now is the after party,” Nielsen mentioned before throwing his suit jacket out to the crowd and serving up extra-sludgy versions of “Vacant Lot” and “Neverending Line.” After two hours of playing, the band got their second wind, coming alive for a show-stopping cover of William Onyeabor’s “Good Name” mashed-up with “Rubber & Bone” that was so good, the seven-plus minutes they played it felt much too short. They closed out the show with “I’ll Be Around,” then returned to the stage for a three song-encore of “Blood Of A Mutt,” “Black Memories,” and “Going Get’s Tough.”
“This is for the big kids. That’s right, it’s a lullaby, you big, drunk baby,” Nielsen said. These “big kids” were just kids when they first fell in love with The Growlers, and amongst the familiar scene of PBR cans, Vans tennis shoes, and the sweet scent of marijuana wafting through the air, one couldn’t help but think, the more things change, the more they stay the same. “I gotta go,” Nielsen said after “Going Get’s Tough,” scaling the scaffolding up to the balcony, and disappearing into the night.
DOG HEART BLUES
HIDING UNDER COVERS
DOPE ON A ROPE
ONE MILLION LOVERS
WHEN YOU WERE MADE
OLD COLD RIVER
SEA LION GOTH
LIVING IN A MEMORY
LET IT BE KNOWN
PET SHOP EYES
PEOPLE DON’T CHANGE
NEVER ENDING LINE
RUBBER + BONES
I’LL BE AROUND
BLOOD OF A MUT