The Growlers - Thalia Hall, Chicago - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

The Growlers - Thalia Hall, Chicago

by Texacaliago Rating: Release Date:

The Growlers occupy an interesting space in the music world.  By all accounts, they are quite popular, as evidenced by the sold out show at Thalia Hall last night, but when’s the last time you heard any Growlers songs on the radio, or saw them on the bill at a major summer festival (OK, besides Bonnaroo last year)?  Granted, when you already host and headline your own unique music festival each year (Beach Goth), I suppose that probably trumps playing a late afternoon set at Lollapalooza for example, but I digress.

Point is, The Growlers seem to fly under the radar for a lot of folks, but for their devoted following of fans, they might as well be the only band on the planet.  I suppose you could say they have a “cult following”, which isn’t untrue, but it’s just a really, really large cult.

And it’s a delightful cult at that, full of quirky and colorful characters, all drawn together by their “magnificent sadness” and a love for Brooks Nielsen’s distinctive vocals, poignantly beautiful lyrics, and the band’s patented loungy/surfy/jangily sound.

Perched high atop the balcony of Thalia Hall afforded me an excellent vantage point to soak in the performance and the sea of devoted fans below.  I was curious how a band with such a generally subdued/affecting sound would play in a live setting, and it turns out The Growlers sport a much more emphatically rhythmic and danceable sound live than you might expect based on listening to them on record. 

Decked out head to toe in all white Liberace-esq attire, the band took the stage to much fanfare and kicked things off with the jaunty/bitter/gorgeous leadoff track from Chinese Fountain: “Big Toe”.  Brooks Nielsen glided around the stage throughout the evening, often times swaying and swooning as he serenaded the crowd with his fantastically unique singing voice that kind of sounds like a less twangy, more burnt-out version of Willie Nelson.  For all intents and purposes, Nielsen’s voice and lyrics are the star of the show, considering that he has one of the most distinctive deliveries in music today, and the fact that most of his typically wistful lyrics are often compelling due to their introspective and poignant nature.  Songs like the incredibly sweet and almost holy sounding “Someday”, the otherworldly and affecting “One Million Lovers”, and the consolatory “Going Gets Tough” are the best example of this and predictably garnered some of the biggest crowd responses of the night.  These songs were delivered in a slightly peppier fashion live, which somewhat diminished their weight, but they still struck a deep emotional cord for this reviewer nonetheless.

In addition to playing many fan favorites, The Growlers did debut a few new songs as well, including “I’ll Be Around” and the title track to their forthcoming new album “City Club”.  These songs sported a bit more of a synthy flavor, but it worked well live and kept the crowd moving on the dancefloor, which steadily became more and more active as the night wore on.  There was actually some apparent moshing going on during a few songs, which I found a bit bemusing considering the generally laid-back and groovy vibes The Growlers were projecting, but to each their own I suppose.

Overall, The Growlers put on a good show last night, but the highlights seemed to come a bit too few and far between.  That’s probably because the band played for nearly 2 hours straight, which is a bit long-winded for most bands, but it felt slightly more-so for The Growlers given their generally loungy vibe.  It was a mostly chill and groovy aura the band put off, although they did do a good job of spicing things up occasionally with some more rockabilly and danceable numbers peppered in amongst the surfy melancholia.

Seeing The Growlers live conjured up the same feelings I have about them when I hear them on record.  A lot of perfectly good, (albeit somewhat despondent), burnt-out surf-rock, but with some truly transcendent, sacred sounding songs peppered in that really make the band special.  When The Growlers deliver those moments, their music is pure magic, and that magic often shined through in a resounding way last night at Thalia Hall.

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