As with an electric Jimi Hendrix lead or a crooned Frank Sinatra bar, as soon as a melody from the Growlers begins, fans know it's them. With a playful, full-bodied bass up-front and acidic vocals over top, the California-based indie-rock band has honed a distinct and infectious sound. Sporting a golden mane and easy swagger, frontman Brooks Nielsen leads a pack of stylish, laid-back dudes who make us want to just kick it.
Formed in Dana Point, California, in 2006, the five-piece is now based out of Costa Mesa in Orange County. Since its inception, it has earned praise from several more-established and beloved rock groups, like the Black Keys, Dr. Dog, and Devendra Banhart, whom they've toured with at various stages over the last ten years. The Growlers have produced five full-length records as well as a number of EPs, including their latest, 2014's Chinese Fountain, which they dubbed their most "grown-up" record to date.
Though several mostly underground acts — among them Mac DeMarco, Ty Segall, and La Luz — have enjoyed playing to relatively large crowds around the country, the Growlers' tones might be the most recognizable, and much of that has to do with the blade-sharp voice of Nielsen. His thoughtful, slicing lyrics and warm rasp are enhanced by the Growlers' prominent use of reverb and a soulful surf-style sound.
The Growlers' signature sound takes its cues from Nielsen's slinky vocal stylings. On their song "Love Test," for example, his voice has the character of a flickering light bulb: "Listen for fate's whisper/It will try and warn you/Telling your heart to be cautious/Of a love that's trying to harm you." In the music video for that track, Nielsen takes on the persona of a mid-'90s Johnny Depp-like character hosting a three-ring circus with a game-show microphone. Behind him, the band carries the tune with Dick Dale-esque guitar tones and a fat, Motor City-style bass. The timbre of Nielsen's voice makes a listener want to know him, believe in him, and chill with him. In short, he makes us want more.
The band owes much of its early commercial success to alternative-rock musician Marcelo Camelo, who brought the Growlers onstage in Rio de Janeiro in 2011 to a big, adoring audience. As the group grew over the years through house parties, small festivals, and then bigger festivals, its live shows grew too. Now a full-blown spectacle, it features extraordinary wigs, heavy makeup, cross-dressing, and a myriad of props. Again, in the "Love Test" video, band members dress in flamboyant tuxedos as they play under a neon sign calling to mind old Chinatown signs for chop suey.
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Though much of its earlier music videos, and even its earlier performances, were lo-fi and eerie, something about the band's energy has stuck — it's part surf, part country, part pop, part mystery. Whatever their secret, the Growlers are on the road for another big national tour this year, featuring 28 cities and more than 30 dates from Las Vegas to Florida.
If you're one of those music lovers who has yet to hear the Growlers, we recommend giving "Love Test" a spin. It's a quick primer on a band with an instantly recognizable, infectious sound, led by a vocalist whose warm, cutting croon will instantly hook you and leave you willingly at its mercy.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 3, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15 plus fees. Call 954-564-1074, or visit ticketmaster.com.