I love T-Pain’s auto-tune iPhone application as much as the next girl, but once in awhile something raw and/or faintly musical feels refreshing. And while I don’t generally look to Orange County when I want something real, the Growlers are just that: a Costa Mesa-based, self-produced hippie surf rock mess, and their psychedelic sound rocked Muddy Waters last Friday night.
After a brief set from fun, un-billed Ojai act Home Now (they sound like Television with funkier keyboard and Julian Casablancas-like vocals), The Growlers took the stage. Or rather, they wandered to the front of the crowd and plugged in, as dictated by the tiny – but always lovely – setup at Muddy Waters Cafe.
Don’t let their name scare you off; lead singer Brooks Nielsen doesn’t actually do much growling. Instead, he slurs bluesy lyrics above a reverberating sound that floats somewhere near ’60s surf rock infused with gypsy punk riffs. But this isn’t your average homage to the light, youthful sound of the Beach Boys. In its place, the group channels classic surf rock before the age of Brian Wilson’s clean cut pop melodies and tight vocal harmonization. There is nothing sweet and absolutely nothing clean cut about the Growlers. If anything, they are Wilson’s mustached grandsons, smoking a joint in the garage while listening to Jim Morrison sing “Love Street.”
But back to the mustaches. Nielsen and his bandmates look like they could party just as well in the Mexican-American War with the ‘staches they’re sporting. In fact, the crowd as a whole was particularly well-bearded, even for Muddy Waters. Facial hair trends aside, good music, and especially raw, messy rock ‘n’ roll, seemed to have a democratizing ability to turn everyone into a dancin’ fool on Friday night. Or maybe that was just someone’s flickering attempts at creating a cheap strobe via the house lights.
After The Growlers finished up their rowdy set most of the crowd left, perhaps not realizing Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band was still to come. As the Seattle band played on, with their young drummer showing particular promise, the diverse crowd steadily headed for the doors. Overall, a great night of music with a slightly awkward finish. Better luck next time, MSHVB.