Live Review: The Growlers @ Rotown, Rotterdam – 20.7.15

When bands get to a certain point in their career, it becomes increasingly harder to tell whether they’ll go up or down. Californian beatniks The Growlers have put years of hard graft into their addictive, self-styled Beach Goth, so much so that their cult following has increased by massive amounts with every album they put out. Following a tough 2014 (which saw their home studio burn to the ground ahead of recording their fourth studio album), the band have spent 2015 continuing to tour new album Chinese Fountain non-stop. Last night, Brooks Nielsen and his band took their chaotic live show to the 250-capacity Rotown, in the heart of Rotterdam. Although the band have sold out venues in Holland twice the size of the Rotown, it seemed about right to see them strip back and play a small club again. Cherry Glazerr joined in for the ride, making for a sweaty night. 

Clementine Creevy-fronted trio Cherry Glazerr took to Rotown’s small stage bang-on 8:30pm, with the band systematically tearing through a selection of songs from debut album Haxel Princess and 2013 EP Papa Cremp. Although they have the songs, amongst them the addictive Had Ten Dollaz, the onstage energy and emotion seemed to have been left behind in the dressing room. Cherry Glazerr are definitely ones to watch for the future, with their music sitting nicely in and amongst contemporaries such as Speedy Ortiz and Wolf Alice. The best moment of the show came at the very end, when Creevy put down her guitar and asked, “are we in the mood for a little mosh?” It resulted in a very brief hardcore punk blast which saw Creevy commandeer the crowd as bassist Sean Redman and drummer Hannah Uribe bashed away at their respective instruments. It was just enough to warm the crowd up for The Growlers, yet it did still miss something which nobody could quite put their finger on.

The Growlers followed a short 30 minutes later, making their way to the stage one-by-one as they kicked into Chinese Fountain album opener Big Toe. Chinese Fountain is The Growlers gone polished, and Big Toe is its defining statement. “She’s a lost cause, so count your losses” sang frontman Nielsen as surf rock guitars intertwined alongside a rhythmic bass and drums combo. The track is a qualitative world away from their previous work, which featured all the hallmarks of DIY recording and surf-flecked vibes. Hiding Under Covers, taken from 2013’s Not Psych! EP, followed in a wave of hazy guitars and forceful organs, the latter of which forms an integral part of The Growlers’ eerie vibes. “Hiding under covers doesn’t help” declared Nielsen, before Naked Kids’ leading bassline made way for a heartfelt ballad. Kyle Stratka’s organ melodies helped emphasize the verses, helping them build up into a sweeping chorus. Stratka is an interesting character, at times spending the show eating his own guitar picks. Whether or not it’s just a gimmick no one really knows, but it definitely adds to the weird atmosphere a Growlers show gives off. The happy-sad Dull Boy followed, waltzing along at a slower pace as Nielsen sang of his dissatisfaction with the town he lives in. “This city’s shrinking down, I think it’s time to leave this town” he sang in an extremely downbeat tone, with only the summery keyboard accompaniment to brighten up the tone. Drinkin’ the Juice Blues, commonly referred to as Hashima, saw the band dig deep into their back catalogue as its chanted ode to Hashima weed intertwined with Nielsen’s short verses. It was an obscure moment in the show, and one which segued perfectly into 2010’s What It Is, a song taken from the death-flecked Hot Tropics. Its atonal guitar shifts and mumbled vocals upped the eeriness factor another notch, something which was even more effective within the confines of the Rotown. What It Is subsequently segued into The Moaning Man from Shanty Town, a track which follows the same path that Hashima took, yet slightly more polished. It was the third successive song which followed the same tone, causing the show to experience a slight dip.

The dip continued during the slightly faster Row, which saw a cacophony of more Americana-influenced guitars take the helm alongside Nielsen. Once Row’s final notes faded out, the show took a turn for the better in the form of One Million Lovers, their trump card. Well, one of them. As its opening organ intro blared through the PA, the crowd went absolutely wild and sang along with every word. Although it didn’t the provide the sole crowdsurfer they had at Valkhof Festival a couple of days earlier, it did make for the loudest reception of the night so far. The faster paced Sea Lion Goth Blues followed, keeping in check with the eerie-yetcatchy tone of the whole evening. “I’ve just been thinking about my will” sang Nielsen at the start of the track, before asking himself, “I wonder who’ll bring roses to my grave?” It made for the first big pit of the evening, even though it was something that the song really didn’t need. It eventually made way for the highlight of the whole show, Chinese Fountain. Its disco-flecked funk grooves, wispy synths and inquisitive lyrics (sung along loudly by the whole room) all combined effortlessly as the crowd jumped, moshed and pushed so hard that people fell onto the stage itself. “Every little kid wants a computer in his pocket” declared Nielsen, his claim ringing very true for modern day society. Chinese Fountain’s lyrics are an anthem for the modern generation, yet its instrumental is coated in genuine 70s funk and 80s disco. The combination makes the song sound like an outlook on the future, from the perspective of the past. Good Advice subsequently went a tad heavier, with Nielsen sending out some more home truths about advice, and how “there’s nothing as depressing as good advice”. The song itself is upbeat and powerful, yet this is merely a mask for Nielsen’s demure lyrical work. It’s a pretty good mask for a man who seems continuously upset, so much so that he doesn’t interact with the crowd whatsoever between songs.

From Chinese Fountain onwards, the show was nothing short of constant peaks. Not Psych!’s Humdrum Blues pulsated as Nielsen mused about the breakdown of a marriage, before the 5-minute long Empty Bones made for an extremely eerie-yet-effervescent experience. “I met you in the past, I met you in the past, but I forgot to ask your name” sang Nielsen whilst his band (drummer Scott Montoya, guitarists Matt Taylor and Kyle Stratka, and bassist Anthony Perry) underpinned the frontman with eerie, tribal-flecked guitars and percussion. Guitarist Taylor took the helm on Change in your Veins, sharing vocal duties with Nielsen during the upbeat track. Nielsen reclaimed control of the vocals during Going Gets Tough, a track which saw two sides to the band. On one hand, the band seemed downbeat as they pulled off a track which directly talks about their former studio, yet on the other they seemed elated as the whole room sang and cheered. “Worry’s a bully that just won’t let me be” sang Nielsen, before pausing the track to let the cheering ensue. Going Gets Tough saw the whole show come together in euphoric fashion, only getting better during Love Test. The recent single closed the main set in a grandiose manner, one which saw the band receive the send-off they deserve. As they emptied the stage, an eerie, percussive backing track played over the PA, building suspense for the encore. Whereas the band looked downbeat during the main set, they looked delighted during the encore, all five of them emerging with glasses of champagne. Although there was no sign of the hectic hedonism which filled their older shows, you could sense that it’s been replaced by a newfound sense of professionalism. Show closer Someday ended the evening on an upbeat note, with everyone singing along loudly yet again. “I can give you everything you ever wanted” sang Nielsen as his band bounced around happily, drummer Montoya using drum breaks to down a bottle of Absolut Vodka. The band left the stage to raucous cheers, having just crammed 21 songs into the space of 75 minutes. That the crowd wanted more was a definite given (last year, the band played almost 30 songs in Amsterdam), meaning that it’s probably high time for the band to return and play a venue which actually suits their popularity. The Rotown is too small for The Growlers, and it definitely showed.