09/28/16 – Paradise Rock Club

The audience was restless after waiting 45 minutes to hear something, anything but the pre-show recordings playing over the loudspeaker at the Paradise Rock Club in anticipation of the Growlers.

No opener; cut to the chase. A neon sign reading “City Club” (the name of their latest album) came to life in blue and yellow, and the five-man band finally appeared on stage in matching mariachi-inspired ensembles, minus the sombreros. There was a general “this is gunna be good” excitement that erupted from the audience upon seeing the band all dolled up.

While their outfits walked the line of cultural appropriation, the southern California natives successfully pulled off their Mexicali getups without backlash. Clad in a decorative white jacket and matching white pants (tight enough to see the outline of a pack of cigarettes in his back pocket), lead singer Brooks Nielsen looked like a ‘70s Pablo Escobar, mustache, sideburns and unruly black hair included.

The band opened with “Big Toe” from their 2014 album Chinese Fountain. Nielsen’s characteristic cigarette-scorched voice has only grown hoarser since the recording, rendering the lyrics almost indistinguishable. But while his voice is by no means beautiful, or even good, it is distinct and sexy in an I-haven’t-slept-in-days kind of way.

Halfway through their second song – “Hiding Under Covers” from Gilded Pleasures – the keyboard player, Kyle Straka, started singing with Nielsen to supplement his cracking voice. Cue audience-wide cringe. Nothing the band couldn’t recover from though; the audience kept singing along and doing that bouncy, self-conscious concert dance.

About ten songs into their set, the band played “Chinese Fountain,” and Nielsen’s lyric – “The internet is bigger than Jesus and John Lennon” – had never rang more true as many audience members watched a palm-sized rendition of the song through their Snapchats instead of the real-time performance unfolding right in front of them.

Conjuring the sounds of ‘60s surfer rock, the band played “Badlands,” and guitarist Matt Taylor killed it with nostalgic reverbs and Dick Dale-esque riffs.

Thirteen songs in, and Nielsen just up and left the stage. Attempting nonchalance, the remaining band members gave each other sideways glances and proceeded to play “People Don’t Change Blues” without Nielsen, all of them singing in unison. Returning for the following song, “Wet Dreams,” Nielsen generally kept it together for the rest of the show. However, as their set wore on, the water in his glass seemed suspiciously more and more like vodka.

The band went on to play two more songs from City Club“When You Were Made” and “World Unglued,” both of which were received with less enthusiasm from the audience than the well-known songs from previous albums.

Perhaps noting this lull in energy, the band played their biggest hit, “One Million Lovers” next to revive the audience. While the familiarity got people singing and dancing, the live performance was unfortunately lackluster compared to the studio recording.  

Was Nielsen drunk? Was he high on performance-induced adrenaline? A combination of both? Who knows, but during their next song, “Wandering Eye,” he blessed the audience with his mic in a similar fashion to a priest blessing his parish with a swinging thurible of incense. Interesting.

By the end of their incredibly long set – 21 songs – the band was starting to falter. Taylor was visibly angry at the sound crew for multiple feedback hiccups and general momentum was sluggish among band and audience members alike.

Ending with one of their most popular songs, “Someday,” the band again botched the live performance. While it was a slightly disappointing close, the audience stuck around and shouted for an encore.

After an awkwardly long break between set and encore (most of the audience had left and some of the house lights were on), the band sans Nielsen returned to the stage. Taylor and the other guitarist, Kyle Straka, exchanged a worried glance before delving into the instrumental version of whatever song Nielsen was supposed to be singing.

At the end of the song, Nielsen re-entered the stage and some, but not all, of the band’s anxiety was released. The band then played “Gay Thoughts” from their most recent EP, Gay Thoughts, followed by “I’ll Be Around” from City Club.

The band finished their encore with an extremely long rendition of “Going Gets Tough” as Nielsen, in a state of drunkenness, kept repeating the same verse, realized his mistake, stopped singing, then finally finished the song, much to other band members’ annoyance.

The house lights were on, the “City Club” sign was off, the other band members long gone in the wings, but Nielsen remained on stage to wish so-and-so a happy birthday and exclaim that drinks are on the house, to which the audience responded with uncomfortable laughter. Is he serious?  The near-disaster encore left audience members with a be-careful-what-you-wish-for feeling.

Drunk and Underwhelming: The Growlers
Pros
  • Incredible costumes
  • Good mix of old and new music
  • Played a long set
Cons
  • Low energy
  • Unprofessional, and possibly drunk
  • Disappointing vocals
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