A typical night in the lives of the Growlers is not typical at all. All of the members of the Costa Mesa, Calif., band seem to have a conspicuous streak in them, some primal urge that makes them want to do ill-advised things (which may or may not be law-abiding) whenever they can and this all flows into a music that is heavily informed by the hallucinations that they've made into their own twisted realities. They'll shoot bottle rockets directly at you, just to get a charge. They find time to never not be consuming alcohol or drugs and on this particular night a proud member displays a huge chunk of broken off front tooth mid-song, as if it were a Purple Heart that had just been ceremoniously awarded. We have it on good authority that this particular band ran into problems with the local authorities on almost every night of a recent tour and somehow received slaps on the wrists with every altercation. It seems as if the law of averages would have caught up to them after too long, but this must owe much to their sometimes antagonistic and other times charming charm.
Growlers songs are chock-full of miscreants and n'er do wells, those who have fallen to their knees, with sunken eyes (chipped off teeth), sweat running down their faces and backs and decided that this was the day that they were going to become god-fearing men and start praying. There are legions of characters in these songs looking for a break, looking for a revival or a clean slate. Lead singer Brooks Nielsen sings as much on the second song on the band's fucking brilliant debut record, "Are You In Or Out?" "A man with no god started to pray for a chance to win back his name." He's just one character of many who's gotten in too deep with no recognition of up or down, dark or light. It seems as if the characters that Nielsen writes are eternally screwed, likely by their own machinations, delivering on endless amounts of poor decisions, but making for themselves biographies that are streaked with wild excursions into the kind of Sunset Strip/Whisky A Go Go feeling that Jim Morrison was living and creating back in the late 60s, when rock and rollers were allowed and encouraged to be eccentric and frightening. Go ahead and pick any of the episodes of folklore or actuality in Morrison's history and it's likely that Nielsen would have loved for that to have been him at the time. He would trade places in a heartbeat, even knowing about the way it all ended.
Growlers are not at all deceptive as a rock and roll band, instead they lock into a slithering and wavy, old exploration of psychedelic trips, days gone horribly wrong and a depressing desert full of hissing devils and fat and scared rattlesnakes with itchy trigger fingers. And they do this and do this and keep on doing this, hypnotizing you right into this groove that feels as if all of us were conspirators on these negligent exploits and the circuses that they created. We feel as if we're stumbling wine drunk, hollowed out, haven't eaten a meal to soak up any of the poisonous alcoholic swill in days and yet we're nowhere near ready to decide that the night's reached any kind of a stopping point that we'd be happy with. Every time you hear a Growlers song you not only feel as if you've been transported into the wee hours of the night when nothing good happens, but that you're not convinced that - on this particular night - it's all that absurdly late. You're going for it and you're going for it with gusto and a cackle in your laugh. Fuck it, you're young and your dreams aren't wasted yet.
*Essay originally published April, 2010