The line snaked around the block at The Blind Pig. Oct. 1 marked the beginning of the cold front that has started to to sweep Ann Arbor off of its 70-degrees-and-sunny feet. Necks shivered; hands were stuffed down pockets; cigarettes were lit. The entire crowd was bonded by complaints about the weather, which turned us into an army of freezing complainers. Yet, the cold and the queue would prove worth it as The Growlers held a performance that would provide a warmth to the cold Ann Arbor crowd.
Once inside the Blind Pig, the restlessness for The Growlers grew. In the interim, a man played funky-techno music on stage. Tan and wrinkled with a brown ponytail slithering beneath his cowboy hat, he sported nothing but a blazer and shorts. It was an apt opener for a band stylized in the seemingly paradoxical genre of beach goth. Yet, The Growlers have made a name for themselves through this niche branding, even hosting a “Beach Goth Festival” for the last three years. Premier artists such as Grimes, Die Antwoord, and Julian Casablancas and The Voidz are expected to attend the upcoming fourth installation, held on Oct. 24-25 in Santa Ana, California.
As one listens to The Growlers, any association with goth culture fades away. Rather, their sun-soaked sound draws comparisons to California’s most legendary artists. They are like The Beach Boys with a potent injection of angst. Combined with lead singer Brooks Nielson’s Lou-Reed-esque west-coast-drawl, the high pitched guitar adds to the aura of the band, entrenching them in California mythos.
The band came on at about 10:30. Nielson sported a grey trench coat. The Growlers led with early hits, including the fantastically catchy “Someday.” Despite the laid-back sound, the crowd soon began to rush the stage and mosh near the front. Bodies flittered in an absurd and electric frenzy. Though beach goth was an enigma to me before, I was now fixed in it, understanding it and thriving in it.
With quiet melodies turning into chanting choruses, The Growlers’ music dips and rockets. The audience howled during the chorus of “Good Advice,” chanting “There’s nothing as depressing as good advice / Nobody wants to hear how to live their lives.” While this song was the Zenith of their punk rock sound, the opening chords of “Going Gets Tough” could have been straight from a Bob Marley album. Beach goth, indeed.
The Growlers played for two hours, but they held the crowd’s attention the entire time. It was a warm reception on a freezing night, and one could almost feel the rays of sunshine all the way from California through the clean vibrations of The Growler’s guitars. This band, despite the punk branding, has an intrinsic optimism in their music and one that will surely turn casual listeners into dedicated fans.