For nearly two hours on October 12th, The Growlers treated an Orlando crowd to its unique “beach goth” music. After canceling several recent shows due to frontman Brooks Nielsen’s illness, simply playing a show was an accomplishment. Though the band started a bit lethargic, they gained energy as the show progressed, playing a full set of tight grooving rock music spanning the band’s five albums.
Combining disparate influences ranging from garage rock to country to surf music to R&B, the Growlers jammed through a decade of crowd-pleasing quirky songs. The mostly up-tempo set was anchored by a solid rhythm section provided by touring drummer Richrd Gowen and touring bassist Brad Bowers. Guitarist Matt Taylor laid down solid guitar work and Nielson, though obviously low on energy, sang in his scratchy rasp while swaying to the music.
New songs like “Too Many Times” and “City Club” were standouts. The latter performance was one of the most rocking of the set, with Taylor’s riffing taking charge. Throughout the set, the Growlers frequently broke into extended jams, improvising the songs and often using jam breaks to transition from one song to the next.
The surf rock hybrid “Sea Lion Goth Blues,” played a bit louder and more aggressive than on the studio recording, showcased The Growlers’ ability to blend various styles and shift dynamically in tempo and intensity. “One Million Lovers” gave a glimpse of reggae played Growlers-style while with “Wandering Eyes,” the band slowed things down and went full-on into power ballad mode.
The bass-heavy set made the rhythms and grooves the focal point of the performance, with the vocals, riffing, and guitar solos, though important, taking a backseat. One of the best grooving performances was with an energetic dance cover of William Onyeabor’s “Good Name.” The band’s greatest moment came on its penultimate song, a rousing rock rendition of the funky “I’ll Be Around,” the best track on current album City Club.
The Growlers’ stage presence was a bit lacking at times, though it’s hard to tell how much of that had to do with Nielsen’s sickness and rustiness from show cancelations. Even so, the sound was top notch, with the band deftly fusing influences together in a way unlike anyone else. No other band sounds like The Growlers do live, that that includes the studio version of the Growlers. Playing live, the band is more relaxed, improvising jams and letting songs morph into each other in such a way that each song becomes a unique experience.