I spent Christmas in paradise. And it was all thanks to The Growlers. There was hula dancing, Santa hat and speedo-clad DJ Johny Basil, snow, a disco ball, doo-wop backup singers, and an Elvis Presley Christmas cover just to name a few memorable moments from the night. The troupe has (like many of us) had what seems to be a rough 2016. From the apparent debacle that was Beach Goth 2016 and subsequent lawsuit, to the somewhat mysterious disappearance of founding band members Scott Montoya and Anthony Braun, it’s been an interesting time for The Growlers and their fans.
It was apparent at the Wiltern Theatre however, that they were trying to make amends and to make up for whatever misgivings have occurred this year. There three-night stay at the venue, it was clear, was a reward for those that have remained loyal despite the turbulence of recent months. This first performance of three at the theatre was also a statement that, after the release of what some are calling a more mainstream LP, City Club (2016), that The Growlers will not easily forget their indie garage band past.
The setlist was long: 30 songs and two hours long. And I felt the exhaustion of the audience by the end. But it was full of the old, the new, and absolutely everything in between. With every deep cut into Hung at Heart (2013), or The Growlers/Thee Ludds (2011), or the performance of the allegedly never played and unreleased “She Loves Me”, a second wind of energy blew over the sold-out theatre. They played tune after tune of the seldom heard live and it became clear that these close-to-home shows (The Growlers call Dana Point, California their hometown) were significant for both performer and observer alike.
The show, an overwhelmingly solid performance, was marred marginally by more than one technical difficulty. Most notably, an apparent mishap with guitarist Matt Taylor’s pedal board, a technology “freak-out” as he termed it in the moment, left the band at a loss for some time. Front man Brooks Nielsen even began referring to the audience as to what to do with the time. Soon enough, as always is the case, the issue was resolved and the group continued in stride.
The remainder of the show was colorful, bright, and filled with holiday cheer. The group exuded a 1950s Christmas vibe with their red glitter-trimmed white suits, cover of “Lonely This Christmas,” and the harmonies of a trio of backup singers; they crooned most memorably with Nielsen during another rarely live-played number off of Gay Thoughts (2011),“Feelin Good”.
With a new album out and three sold-out shows at the Wiltern in one week, the Growlers have a lot to be proud of. It’s abundantly clear that they’re not letting success get in the way of playing the music that got them to where they are.
Article by Jacob Elsanadi. Photos by Sofia Duarte.