California’s The Growlers very clearly don’t care about curfews. Last night, during a sold-out show at Amsterdam’s legendary Paradiso, Brooks Nielsen and co. treated the Dutch crowd to a set spanning 29 songs over the course of a whopping two hours and twenty minutes. Taking to the stage bang on 8:30pm, it wasn’t until 11pm that the show finally came to a close. Not that this should come as a surprise, though; on the contrary, as it’s exactly what you’d expect from a band with as prolific a back catalogue as The Growlers. Nielsen and his band have put out six full albums and a handful of EPs since emerging at the end of the 2000s, and they show no signs of stopping as they bring their famed Beach Goth Tour to Europe for the first time in two years.
Australian multi-instrumentalist Kirin J Callinan joined the band as special guest on the night, bringing with him an abundance of happiness, something emphasised through his quirky and camp electro pop (largely based on backing tracks and a multitude of guitar pedals). You might know him through meme-worthy streaming hit Big Enough, famous for its Jimmy Barnes-starring, cowboy-themed music video. Yes, that one. It served as the finale during Callinan’s half an hour set, one which he used to successfully win over a stale Dutch crowd with his Australian wit and charm. “My father is no longer with us, he moved to Melbourne” he told the crowd early on in incredibly deadpan fashion, forcing laughter out of a reluctant crowd who most definitely had to take their time in warming to his charm. It eventually (read: after plenty of bombastic Eurovision-worthy synths and disco lights) worked, resulting in the kind of opening set you didn’t know you wanted, but certainly needed.
The Growlers hit the stage bang on 8:30pm, receiving rapturous applause and cheers from a crowd who were unbelievably enthusiastic from the word go. The 1,500-capacity Paradiso was packed to the rafters, the crowd giving it their all once 2016’s Night Ride kicked into gear. It marked the start of a marathon night which drew from all across the band’s expansive back catalogue, placing particular emphasis on 2014’s Chinese Fountain, 2016’s City Club and July’s Casual Acquaintances. Fan favourites Naked Kids and Someday featured early on, injecting a sense of old school Growlers goodness into the mix as Nielsen slowly gained energy after taking to the stage in somewhat lethargic fashion. The first half of the show centred heavily on the slower, brooding elements of the band’s repertoire, among them the Motown-esque The Daisy Chain, Reggae-tinged Heaven in Hell, twinkling Love Testand all-round classic One Million Lovers. The latter is what you could call a quintessential Growlers song, encompassing wispy synths, lo-fi rhythms and Nielsen’s trademark raspy vocals. All three are key elements to that classic Growlers sound, and they popped up throughout the entire night in various ways, shapes and forms (a rare outing for standalone single Monotonia made for a real highlight).
After an initially slow start, the show finally gained pace and momentum during 2014’s Big Toe, which serves as one of the band’s best album openers and has since become an ultimate fan favourite both on and offstage. “She’s a lost cause, so count your losses” wailed Nielsen as he hovered across the stage, occasionally bending down to either smoke a cigarette, chug a drink or check his phone before redirecting his gaze towards the baying Paradiso masses. Big Toe marked a turning point in the show, with the band grasping onto that aforementioned momentum and refusing to let go as they took fans down a rabbit hole of deep cuts, fan favourites and the occasional story. 2009’s Old Cold River marked the first proper throwback of the night, injecting moody Beach Goth vibes into the mix courtesy of guitarists Matt Taylor and Kyle Stratka. Together with Nielsen, Stratka and Taylor form the core of The Growlers’ modern day studio output, having parted ways with former core members Anthony Perry and Scott Montoya. Onstage they’ve been replaced by bassist Brad Bowers, drummer Richard Gowen and keyboardist Adam Wolcott Smith, turning the group into an eclectic sextet.
It’s on the band’s post-2014 songs where the addition of these live members really comes to life, with the brash one-two of Pavement and the Boot and Orgasm of Death serving as solid testament to this claim. Both tracks are taken from this year’s cutting room floor collection, Casual Acquaintances, a set of songs which didn’t make it onto City Club back in 2016. Alongside the oldest cuts on tonight’s setlist, these new songs don’t seem to stick out like as much of a sore thumb as City Club’s slick, over-produced alt pop sheen (disclaimer: the songs are still great), sounding more at home on the lo-fi likes of Are You In Or Out?, Hot Tropics or Hung at Heart. There’s plenty to fawn over tonight in regards to these three records, with fan favourites Humdrum Blues, Sea Lion Goth Blues, Badlands and Empty Bones all passing by in rambunctiously quick succession. The fourth of these, Empty Bones, marked another high point in the show thanks to its dark groove and extended finale, with Feelin’ Good serving as yet another example of that classic Growlers sound. Together, they slowly but surely made way for a blistering end to the main set, which came on the segued double whammy of City Club and Chinese Fountain. Both tracks possess an incredibly appealing disco groove, and they certainly make for two of the band’s strongest tracks.
Once the band left the stage, it became evident that – after 26 songs – the crowd still hadn’t had enough. Returning onstage to even more cheers and screams from the crowd, the band kicked into a demure and stripped down cover of Scott Walker’s Amsterdam, a fitting tribute to the city which has been so welcoming to The Growlers over the years. A final glimpse of disco-ready Beach Goth came on penultimate track I’ll Be Around, before a euphoric Going Gets Tough brought proceedings to an end in utmost glorious fashion (as per usual). It marked the end of a night where everything clicked and just made total sense. The band were on top form both vocally and instrumentally, and the crowd were more than up for it from the moment the lights went out dead on 8:30. With another new album confirmed to be on the way in 2019, it’s anyone’s guess as to which direction the band will go in next. What we can be sure of, though, is that it’ll be very special. Casual Acquaintances is out now. The Beach Goth tour continues tomorrow (8 November) in London, and you can find a selection of shots from last night’s show below.