Who are The Growlers?
Their gig at The Zoo (3 November) sparked many a conversation and generated an exceptional amount of interest on social media; I was drawn to their vivid album artwork but couldn’t quite familiarise myself with much of their music.
The only factor that distracted from the spectacle of a seven-piece group on stage was frontman Brooks Neilson’s bleach-blonde mop; an ode to touring a country inhabited by sun-streaked surfers maybe, though likely an indication of his no-f*#@s-given attitude.
Steady start to the set with ‘Drinkin’ The Juice Blues (Hashima)’, the track teetering over an edge but never quite toppling; ‘Hiding Under Covers’ then ‘Naked Kids’ offered a little more rise and fall, both bearing pleasantly predictable song structures.
Discography heavyweight ‘Night Ride’ spun the set into new territories with smooth crooning instrumentals and standout lyrics, the first verse and bridge cleverly linked by words but beautifully transitioned by sound, ‘’Cause your friends are still in… nightclubs and back rooms, baggies in the bathrooms’.
Newbie ‘Dope On A Rope’ picked up the pace, introducing twinkling guitar riffs and a recognisable point of difference between 2016 record ‘City Club’ and albums prior; ‘World Unglued’ hinted at the band’s founding sound, the song’s storytelling elements separating it from the wishy-washy rhetorics of early releases.
‘One Million Dollars’ proved deserving of its title as most popular release, while the sweetheart lyrics of ‘Someday’ paired perfectly with its optimistic chord progression; I couldn’t help but picture fathers spinning daughters on the dancefloors of weddings held by the ocean.
In a clever contrast the distinctive minor chords of ‘Feelin’ Good’ swiftly changed the gig’s sentiments, mirrored by the similar ‘Wandering Eyes’, followed by ‘Let It Be Known’.
As ‘The Moaning Man From Shanty Town’ and ‘The Fruit Is For Everyone’ cooed, the performance began to feel a little repetitive, but ‘Change In Your Veins’ slowly pulled listeners from the gentle swaying they’d succumbed to.
‘Gay Thoughts’ was the catalyst of a new set direction; from here, The Growlers took the gig to new heights, kicking all performance aspects up a notch and transforming the genre entirely from breezy, surf-rock hues, to heavy punk resonances.
By the time ‘Vacant Lot’ oozed its way through the audience the atmosphere had totally shifted; we were in darker terrain, almost head-banging territory; the seamless switch from sound to sound almost as admirable as the faultless execution.
Fan-favourite ‘City Club’ slotted perfectly into the set-list, despite coming from an American band the light-hearted tune seemed Australian; they clutched at similar straws with pearler ‘Chinese Fountain’, sparkling synths and quirky spoken vocals combining to produce an underrated dazzler.
The encore rewarded the faithful crowd with the ever-kooky ‘I’ll Be Around’, before closing with ‘Going Gets Tough’, all warm and mellow like orange juice for breakfast on Sunday morning.
From a surface-level perspective, it’s easy to presume frontman Brooks Neilson is the primary dictator, but although his charisma and the strength in his raspy vocals tend to steal the eye, I wouldn’t say he’s the solo driving force behind the band’s success.
True, the instrumentalists seem to shy away in the background though not due to lack of talent. Neilson brings the zazz, but he’s simply the vibrant cherry on top of what would have to be a sublime foundation of musical knowledge to produce such a well-refined, well-defined sound.
There’s no questioning that sound solely and deservedly belongs to The Growlers, a perfectly potent cocktail of surf, punk and garage rock that conjures up so many different feelings and thoughts it’s as if they’ve jammed the emotions of a lengthy love ballad into short, sharp, genre-ambiguous bursts, so electric and full of energy you’re not quite sure what hit you until you feel the current, you sense the buzz.
Although a two-hour set was slightly ambitious and a little monotonous as times, one hundred and twenty minutes brought Hawaiian hula dancing, a debate to best describe Neilson’s voice (initially country, next folk, eventually blues), it triggered a firm decision that his mannerisms were identical to Elliott Hammond from The Delta Riggs, and a firm change of mind minutes later.
There was once a compulsion to sway my knees like Elvis, and I wonder whether the band was influenced by The Beach Boys. Sometimes I felt desperate to furiously scribble the lyrics, others I couldn’t tear my eyes from the stage.
Still, one hundred and twenty minutes later and the all-encompassing question remains – who are The Growlers?
Evidently, they’re a band that rose to fame in a relatively low-key manner, all the while accumulating a rock-solid fan base and an impressive number of albums brimming with consistently strong releases, instead of just one.
The group boasts such a colourful assortment of musical characteristics it reminds of me of multiple pieces from various jigsaws fitting together as one; what’s most curious is that even now, I can’t quite visualise the finished result.
They’re whacky and enigmatic and slightly strange, no doubt, but there’s no denying that mysterious jigsaw they’ve pieced is a one-in-a-million puzzle.