It becomes very clear what kind of fan base a group has when you have stood in a crowd lined up on 11th Street in the rain, 20 minutes after doors were scheduled to open and still not a soul is complaining and everyone is just brimming with apparent excitement to see this sold out show. Never having been to Webster Hall, nor seen The Growlers live, that environment of obvious loyalty and support from the fans was the best, most welcoming environment in which to experience this evening of firsts.
The smoky venue lit up first with the opening act, Cut Worms, a quirky old-America folk band whose lead singer looked distractingly like Win Butler of Arcade Fire and whose music prompted my plus one to point out that “you can really just play the same song six times as long as you change the lights”. After their short set the audience was graced with the best surprise of my concert going life (when I was showed the running order at check-in I assumed “Drag Show” was a band and I was proven very incorrect). Brooks Neilson came out to introduce “Cher”, who sang two numbers in full (and flawless) drag in order to transition from the opening to the main act and it worked so well and received an enormous positive reaction from everyone in the venue.
Finally The Growlers began their set immediately jumping into Big Toe, the first track off of Chinese Fountain (personally my least favorite Growlers album) and honestly, everything they gave was exactly what I expected. Their sort of “if Milky Chance got bent over and destroyed by Alex Turner” sound (and look) unsurprisingly read extremely well in a live setting. The most enjoyable part by far was just watching these fans, some of whom already knew the words to the songs on the album that was released just that day. Every song received an excited reaction from the audience and the floor was in constant motion. The groove carried from one song to the next as Brooks Neilson said almost nothing throughout the whole show and just let the music go.
My biggest concern going into the gig was how they were going to balance their older tracks and the ones from the new album – since City Club is such a different sound than their previous albums – but they really did a lovely job of flowing from the old into the new and the placement of these new sort of Vaporwave influenced, Nicholas Winding Refn film sounding City Club songs sounded like they just belonged there. In fact, though I prefer their older sound, one of the new singles, Night Ride, was one of my favorite performances of the night. However, though I could have jammed to One Million Lovers and Empty Bones all day, the biggest thing missing from this show was the stillness. The Growlers performed over 20 songs and not a single one was a ballad (not a surprise, seeing as that is one of the things largely missing from their albums as well). At a certain point, as good as these songs may have been, they all started to run together as just this same groovy-fill repeating over and over with no ebbs and flows or space for just a little breath.
Honestly, at the end of the night, the music was fine. What made the night enjoyable was how everyone there was connected to the music. Sure, it was a simple show for a somewhat derivative band making pretty okay music, but these fans loved every second of it and you could see the personal connection they had to the music as well as just the general existence of these band members – this group of odd, talented misfits obviously speaks to people and at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if a lot of their songs sound the same or the tempo never seems to change for the entire set, what matters is that those people who waited a half hour in the rain got everything they wanted. If anything, The Growlers can be commended for that simple fact: they make music for the people.