Opening the night for the Growlers’ stop in Union Transfer this September was Surfbort, a punk foursome led by female screamer Dani Miller. Immediately amping up the crowd’s energy, their short set sent fans into a sweaty moshpit. Overflowing with anti-establishment attitudes and a shredding guitar power, Surfbort primed the stage with an aggressive excitement that the main L.A. rockers would mellow.
A half an hour later the Growlers emerged under glowing red light, dressed in a matching set of monochrome jumpsuits. Frontman Brooks Nielsen himself wore white overalls spotted with black stars and flames licking up the hem of his pant legs. Standing in front of a set composed of cut-outs like a long-tongued skull and skeleton Lady Madonna, the Growlers launched into opening song “Ol’ Rat Face,” off of their 2013 record Gilded Pleasures.
Though the band’s tour follows the release of their album Casual Acquaintances this summer, the setlist comprised of a mix of songs from past albums, with the majority being from 2016’s Julian-Casablancas-produced City Club. With an anguished concentration on his face, Nielsen growled through “Night Right,” “Dope on a Rope,” and “Daisy Chain,” with a bouncing, reggae-evocative rock.
Despite the gentle swing of most of the band’s songs, fans fell in love, constantly crowd-surfing and reaching out to Nielsen for any form of interaction they could get. Swaying along and singing every word, those at the front around me looked up at the band with all of the longing adoration expressed in “Rare Hearts” – to which Nielsen returned a curling smile of love.
The Growlers concluded their 21-song set with a couplet of groovier rockers “Chinese Fountain” and “I’ll Be Around,” before returning for the inevitable encore that the room demanded. When they re-took the stage, they paused to throw out a confetti of fake hundred dollar bills printed with the band’s name and various symbols. And Nielsen, who had taken a written message from a fan before leaving after the main set, bent down to write his reply and return it, chuckling at whatever the exchange between the two was.
Finally they set off with two long-awaited hits, “One Million Lovers,” and “Going Gets Tough,” the latter of which had the whole room singing along at a volume that nearly swallowed Nielsen’s own vocals. As the band shook around to the rhythm in the wizard-like uniforms, the crowd followed suit, begging for more despite the almost 2-hour performance. As the biting East Coast weather approaches, the sunny psychedelia of the Growlers reminded us all that “when the going gets tough,” our love for the community of music will keep us together.