WRITTEN BY: Tim Shermer
PHOTOS BY: Madelyn Van Trieste
California psychedelic rock trio The Growlers brought their fall tour to Philly’s beloved Union Transfer on Thursday night, playing a 22-song set in front of a nearly sold-out crowd. Supporting their 2018 LP Casual Acquaintances and supported by up-and-coming rockers Pinky Pinky, the Growlers wove through their entire discography with a fantastic stage presence that had every type of fan dancing all night.
Originally hailing from Dana Point, California, the band is made up of Brooks Nielsen on vocals, Matt Taylor on lead guitar, and Kyle Straka on keyboards and rhythm guitar. This lineup was accompanied by a rhythm section of touring musicians, effectively making it a 6-piece band for the majority of the show.
They opened the set with “Problems III” off of their latest record and followed with selections from their back catalog, most notably the three-song run of “Naked Kids,” “Night Ride,” and “Dope on a Rope.”
The sound mixing left something to be desired, and at times the atmosphere was a bit too reminiscent of a high school party, but what was most evident was the band’s carefree and inventive spirit that pulled from ska and reggae influences just as well as groovy, stoner-friendly guitar figures as the show progressed. Guitarist Matt Taylor could really be on the verge of coming into his own as a soloist, and it was exciting to see him given more opportunities to rip a solo than he seems to get on the final cuts of albums.
“Where there’s balloons, there’s clowns,” posited frontman Brooks Nielsen between songs as he watched a few dark-colored balloons – a fixture in the audience by the halfway point of the show – bounce from finger to finger around the pit. When one found its way up on stage, Taylor promptly popped it with the neck of his guitar.
Sticking mostly to City Club and Chinese Fountain standards for the second half of the main set, the Growlers lived up to Strokes comparisons (Julian Casablancas produced the band’s most recent full-length) and Nielsen called upon his inner Matt Shultz to cater to an increasingly lively crowd, even autographing a fan’s vinyl mid-song. The last 30 minutes of the show featured songs such as “Decoy Face,” “Vacant Lot,” and title tracks from both aforementioned albums.
The group walked off to boisterous applause after closing out the main set with an upbeat “Humdrum Blues,” a selection from their 2013 record Gilded Pleasures, and returned for crowd pleasers “I’ll Be Around” and “Going Gets Tough.”
Tapping into Gen Z psychedelia with the deftness of a Crumb or Tame Impala without sacrificing the crunchy garage sound perfected by the likes of Cage the Elephant circa 2013, the Growlers have carved out a territory all their own in what can best be described as anti-surf-rock – eclectic and wonderful, wildly original, and so decidedly Californian.
The Growlers continue their tour this Saturday at New York’s Summerstage before heading south for gigs at Chattanooga’s Songbirds Guitar Museum, Pensacola’s Vinyl Music Hall, and the legendary Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C., to name a few. Their new singles, “Foghorn Town” and “Try Hard Fool,” can be found on all major streaming platforms.
Follow writer Tim Shermer on Twitter @tdshermer