ACL Review: Growlers

Diminished surf-psych Cali crew maintains

After a lawsuit ended their genre namesake Beach Goth Festival and the mixed reception of last year’s Julian Casablancas-produced City Club, their fifth studio LP, the question remains: Is California surf-pop institution the Growlers fading?

Photo by Gary Miller

A late-afternoon Sunday variety show on the Miller Lite stage proved that the band’s blend of aquatic psych-rock endures, albeit matured. The slicked back, less grungy tunes from City Club occupied only a few spots in the set list. A history lesson of covers filled in the open slots.

Tributes included “Drinkin’ the Blues Juice,” based on a song by Mali ensemble Tinariwen, “Psycho,” a serial killer tale popularized by country singer Eddie Noack, and the complete 180 of “Good Name” by Nigerian funk artist William Onyeabor. The eclectic picks slotted neatly into the set, converted into Growler-isms by Brooks Nielsen’s piercing, gravely croon. The 33-year-old frontman swaggered his way around the stage, a greaser Casanova with bleach-blond mop.

Mid-set, oldie favorite “One Million Lovers” epitomized the group’s knack for swoony tales of struggling love backed by booming bass and breezy guitar. The singer ended the song with gratitude to the crowd for “spending your time over here with the old Growlers,” faking corny reflection on the band’s 10-year career.

The decade showed in the surplus seven-man setup, with only two of the group’s founding members – Nielsen and guitarist Matt Taylor – still around. Warped indie up-and-comer Steve Marion, aka Delicate Steve, served as one of three six-stringers.

Title single “City Club” marked the set’s groovy second half, moving into cleaner instrumentals and Strokes-ian alterations. Even with a bigger band and less performance eccentricity and rambunctiousness than what some fans may remember, the shaggy crew served up enough stomp and psych to maintain the beach goth badge. The Growlers aren’t what they used to be, but ACL didn’t seem to mind.

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Growlers, ACL Fest 2017, Brooks Nielsen, Matt Taylor, Steve Marion, Julian Casablancas, the Strokes, Tinariwen, Eddie Noack, William Onyeabor

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