The Growlers - The Vic Theatre, Chicago

by Texacaliago Rating: Release Date:
The Growlers - The Vic Theatre, Chicago
The Growlers - The Vic Theatre, Chicago

A lot has happened in the world since the last time I caught a show by The Growlers slightly over one year ago to the day.  There’s been incredible highs (like the Cubs winning the World Series) and unbelievable lows (like November 8th and the continuing troubling fallout associated with it), but like Brooks Nielsen himself has said before, although “nothing stays the same” and “there’s always change”, some things remain the same.

And in the case of The Growlers, their knack for delivering consistently good albums and infectious live performances has fortunately remained very much the same over the past year.  In fact, one could argue things have never been better for the band.  Between appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, continuing to sell-out venues around the world, and creating/headlining their own new festival scheduled for later this month (The Growlers Six), it's fair to say that the past year in particular has been a very good one for The Growlers.

And it’s no coincidence that this new heightened level of success has come on the heels of their breakout album City Club released last year. Although The Growlers were certainly an established band before its release, the Julian Casablancas-produced effort has helped broaden the band’s audience beyond their loyal “beach goth” following.  A noticeably more beat-driven and spunkier affair (relatively speaking), City Club features many tunes that seem tailor-made for the dance-floor, so it came as no surprise that their performance at the sold-out Vic Theater Friday night featured more than a few selections from that album.  “Vacant Lot” was definitely more “goth” than “beach” and practically shook the walls with it's hard-hitting intensity , while the incredibly smooth “Night Ride” had the crowd swaying in unison to the cold-as-ice rhythm of the song.

But while The Growlers have seemingly turned “tallboys into champagne” and “bologna into steak” as of late, at their core the band are still a bunch of scraggly stoners from So-Cal that excel at playing their own unique brand of loungy, psych-tinged surf-rock with a distinctively poignant heart-of-gold quality.  How else could you describe such live staples and fan-favorites as the aforementioned “Someday” or “One Million Lovers”?  Wistful and endearing as those songs are, they were performed with a downright jaunty zeal Friday night, which surprisingly got the crowd moving in a borderline unruly fashion at times.

I say surprisingly because, although I have only seen The Growlers’ live twice now, once again I was struck at just how energetic their live show actually is.  Granted, certain songs in their arsenal (like the highly danceable “I’ll Be Around” or “Two Many Times”) should be expected to get the crowd moving, but for a band with such a generally subdued and often despondent sound, they always manage to deliver a pretty emphatic set in spite of those overtones that are such an integral part of their music.  Take “Big Toe” for example, a gorgeously melodic mid-tempo number on record, impressively turns into a decidedly joyous and cathartic experience in a live setting.  It’s not like it’s a heavy or mosh-worthy song by any stretch of the imagination (quite the opposite actually), but for whatever reason that’s how a good portion of the crowd seemed to respond to it.  

Whatever the case, that palpable energy and enthusiasm is a hallmark of The Growlers' live experience, which is a testament to their growing reputation as a great live act.  Their set has a little bit of everything to offer, from the aforementioned danceable numbers, to heartfelt and uplifting sing-along ballads like “Going Gets Tough” (which closed-out the show) and everything in between really.  Lead singer Brooks Nielsen may not be much of a showman (he generally paces and jives around the stage in an affably arrhythmic manner), but he does croon out his lovable songs in a convincingly emphatic and heart-felt fashion, which seems to consistently energize the audience at all the right times.

This definitely helped keep things interesting and engaging over the course of a two hour set, a set that was very well received by the sold-out crowd at the Vic Theater Friday night.  While the band’s popularity continues to steadily grow and their sound continues to evolve, those factors have seemingly only served to enhance the impact and feeling of their live show.  In fact, the band have never sounded better in a live setting, as evidenced by the scores of smiling faces headed out into the cool Chicago night after an evening of great music courtesy of The Growlers. Good times.

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