The Growlers with Kirin J. Callinan at the Commodore Ballroom, 9/9/18
At their sold-out concert at the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday (Sept. 9), the Growlers performed a set of tunes that, depending on how close you stood to the stage, inspired either pleasant head-nodding from audience members or a downright bacchanalian riot.
The self-described “beach goth” outfit mix surf-rock aesthetics with alt-rock debauchery, and their live performances are all-out parties that let rowdy thrill-seekers mosh up front. While the stoned and the shy can embrace the chill vibes in the back. They played a great show, and the rapturous audience loved them in return.
And yet, the Growlers were almost upstaged by their opener, Kirin J. Callinan. The Australian“enfant terrible” is often thought of as a comedic novelty act, which isn’t exactly an incorrect assessment. Just look at the video for “Big Enough,” his over-the top diversity anthem, which features Jimmy Barnes as a screaming cowboy in the sky. But Callinan was a lot of fun, and his performance showed that he’s a talented showman too.
Callinan started out wobbly, performing solo electric guitar numbers that swerved between angelic balladry and piercing guitar noise. The audience was confused at first. Admittedly this edgier material wasn’t a good fit for Callinan. But when he let loose with the more electronic-oriented songs in his repertoire, he slowly began to win them with his powerful baritone, ridiculous dance moves and overall on-stage extravagance.
As the show went on and his shirt came off, Callinan became phenomenal. He pumped his fists in the air, pranced around the stage and performed acrobatics with his microphone stand. Callinan fully let himself shine as the ironic macho-man star that he is.
Is his music good? It’s hard to say, but watching him perform is highly enjoyable. By the time Callinan was screaming his lungs out over the EDM chorus of “Big Enough,” the shocked audience could not get enough of him.
The Growlers take the stage
This set a high standard for the Growlers to follow. When they eventually came on-stage to perform their reverb-heavy brand of retro guitar pop, it felt like a bit of an anticlimax. The Growlers’ music is pleasant and likeable. But its mid-tempo smoothness and lack of sharp pop hooks means that sometimes tunes drift in one ear and float out the other.
Fortunately, both the band and the crowd got rowdier in the middle section of the show, as songs like “Problems III” and “Chinese Fountain” provided an upbeat edge.
Naturally, the best place to experience the show was in the raucous crowds up front, where sweat-drenched young people crashed and thrashed their bodies into one another in a hedonistic sense of reverie. What makes the Growlers’ music so good for this wild behaviour is its openness to femininity. While a punk concert, for example, would be characterized by aggression, the Growlers’ balance of rowdiness and sensitivity in their music created a more friendly riot. Because of this, it’s no surprise that the show had a near-equal gender balance.
The band hit their stride in the final third of the show, where they knocked out some of their best songs and refused to let the party die down. They hit their peak during the encore with “Gay Thoughts” and “Going Gets Tough” — the former an upbeat crowd favourite, the latter a heartfelt ode to hard times that ended the show on a tender note.
The Growlers occupy a weird niche in our culture. They’re absent from both rock radio and the music press. Their image as an all-male rock band, oozing with sleaze and sex appeal, feels out of place in 2018.
And yet, through developing a huge fanbase of youngsters who worship their retro stylings and über-cool posturing, they’ve literally sold out every show that they’ve performed on their tour so far. Some might bemoan the awful cliched trope that “rock is dead,” but as the Growlers’ Vancouver show suggests, rock and roll revelry continues to thrive. And it’s awfully fun.