It was my first experience with The Growlers festival since I had never attended its previous incarnation, Beach Goth, hosted by the Observatory in Orange County, but this Growlers Six festival with its new location was as impressive as you could guess with the complete look of a big event. If you have followed the story, you probably know that its fifth edition last year was plagued with a number of problems (an oversold parking lot and plenty of rain) and ended in a lawsuit by the Observatory? I can’t explain the details of this disastrous story, and nobody seems to care now, because the Growlers have a new festival and it’s better than ever.
How did they do that? How did they manage to book Dan Auerbach, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Julian Casablancas….? Easy to guess for this last one as the Growlers’ fifth LP, ‘City Club’, was released on Cult Records, the label founded by the frontman of the Strokes, and the record was even produced by Casablancas himself. The Growlers are big, and I bet you had no idea how big they were. Beside Casablancas, they managed to book many other big hip acts like Auerbach, Karen O, with an independent mind and security assured by Live Nation. In the end, they did put up an impressive 2-day event with a line up that could make the FYF fest jealous.
And the location was far much better than the current FYF fest one, which has stubbornly settled for Exposition Park and stages so far apart than you honestly ends up walking a half-marathon in a day … the stages at Growlers Six were so close to each other that you could often hear the music coming from the next one, and I am not saying it wasn’t a problem at times, but it made my day so much easier.
The line up was certainly first class and for about $80 a day or $150 for 2 days, you had plenty for your money. Despite a regrettable incident with the Regrettes that I did not witness (a crazy fan jumped on stage and attacked the lead singer) things went very smoothly. The crowd was in a Halloween mood, as Beach Goth has always been a big pre-Halloween party and many bands had played the game and came on stage all dressed up for the circumstance so that I could have spent my entire afternoon taking pics of the awesome costumes.
Each fest has its vibe, Desert Daze has the desert vibe and enough dust to fill your lungs for a very long time, the FYF Fest has now surrounded itself with concrete and the LA Coliseum (and I have said it before, I am not a fan of that place), while Music Tastes Good (that I didn’t attend) is close to the sea and so was The Growlers Six, at a new location bathing all day in cool sea breeze. The vibe of the festival was between a circus, a beach party and an old fashioned carnival with games, rides and even a real motordrome wall of death
The festival had probably booked the most eclectic line up ever, as a result, no genre was discriminated, and no style was spared. There was something for everyone, music world lovers, people looking for something else than the usual indie rock acts, and adventurous music aficionados were certainly able to be find satisfaction with the wonderful Antibalas and their mix of afro-beat, R&B, hip-hop, and rock wrapped around a political and spiritual message, or Tinariwen, the Touareg soul rebels and their Saharan blues. Meanwhile, reggae was beautifully represented by the legendary reggae roots heroes Steel Pulse, and the Jamaican rhythm section Sly and Robbie, who has played with the who’s who of the music world, from Grace Jones to Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Even Ska was present with the dynamic Hepcat which made people dance and mosh, whereas Banda lovers (traditional Mexican music) got satisfied with Latino singer Chiquis Rivera… How often do you see a large Mariachi band on a festival stage just before a big Hip Hop act like the Geto Boys, who, I have heard, don’t perform very often! Rap was also a main attraction during these two days, with Juvenile, Danny Brown and Geto Boys already mentioned, and, of course plenty of indie rock acts, big and small, were part of the celebration: Tomorrows Tulips, the Paranoyds, La Luz, Pinky Pinky, Cigarettes After Sex, Frankie Cosmos, the Regrettes, Ex Stains, Amber Coffman, The Warlocks, Beach Fossils, Girlpool… as well as Rostam and his shy whimsical new songs — however the poor guy was playing at the same time than the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and didn’t get the crowd he deserved. Grateful Shred on Saturday and Big Sandy and his Fly Rite Boys on Sunday completed this eclectic line-up with bluesy Americana and rockabilly vibes as if the Growlers Six wanted to make sure no genre had been forgotten,
Old school punk legends were mostly the scene on the Junior and Something stages with Guided by Voices and their always-on-fire frontman Robert Pollard, who at 60, can still fit a thousand songs in an hour-long set with a lot of high kicks, and the Weirdos playing their amalgam of sounds with their own brand of leg air-kicking. And talking about new wave, punk and hardcore legends, the B 52’s, Fear and Bad Brains were more or less occupying the same time slots on Sunday, which made me wonder, how did this festival manage to get all these great acts together? How did they get Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Karen O said the band hadn’t played for 4 years and this performance was one of their rare shows for 2017… After all, their show at the Fonda, just a few days before, had sold out in a few seconds so the NY band was certainly a highlight of Saturday for a very good reason: Karen O is still a mighty, ferocious frontwoman. On stage she slays, roars, sprayed water over the crowd and fights claws and teeth with violent mic dropping and plenty of screams, while removing several layers of clothes which looked as eccentric as her stage antics. She was the strength to reckon on, a fury beloved by an adoring crowd while the band was blasting ‘Sacrilege’, ‘Soft Shock’, ‘Maps’, ‘Heads Will Roll’. Literally wearing her songs, with a crazy looking ‘Black Tongue’ jacket and a yellow Fever shirt, she probably stole the day with the largest crowd of the night. And since the Sound on Sound Fest (where Yeah Yeah Yeahs were supposed to play) was just canceled, all the spotlights are definitively on their Growlers Six performance.
Modest Mouse also had a big crowd too, their explosive set did include banjo, violin and trumpet during songs such as ‘Dramamine’, ‘Lampshades on Fire’, ‘Fire It Up’, performed by a high-energy frontman Isaac Brock, and the music appeared so inventive and surprising, that I honestly thought I should have paid more attention to them over the years. Believe me, there’s much more to Modest Mouse than their well-known hit song ‘Float On’, that they admirably did not play that night.
On Sunday, highlights certainly included the incredibly entertaining and talented Beth Ditto, undulating on stage while stealing pizza from the mouth of the audience, and singing her soulful dance-floor songs dressed up as Melania Trump, ‘I look a lot like her’, she said. Well aware she was playing at the same time than Dan Auerbach, who had obviously attracted a huge crowd, she warmly thanked us to be there… ‘Thank you, the three of you!’
Auerbach was not there as a Black Key, but as a solo act, surrounded by legendary session musicians, giving us a taste of his upcoming album that he will release next month with soul singer Robert Finley, via his own label Easy Eye Sound. If this sounded nothing like the Black Keys, it was poppier, sunnier and quite catchy, but I ended up hanging with the three people around Beth’s stage, I had been wanting to see her for a long time and she is way too rare to be missed. I didn’t stay too long watching Alice Glass’ super intense set (because I didn’t want to miss Julian Casablancas and the Voidz) but many other people opted for her electropunk set of music.
Casablancas and his band were the other big attraction of Sunday night (they were already a big deal when they headlined the FYF fest with Interpol a few years ago) and they performed their complex and layered music from their unique album ‘Tyranny’, beside an unavoidable cover of the Strokes. The lighting was incredibly bad, with stroboscopic lights blinding every retina of the crowd, preventing everyone to see Julian’s pretty face. I enjoyed their set of dark and tumultuous music, as multifaceted as the festival was.
As they did on Saturday, The Growlers closed the night (with experimental weirdos Butthole Surfers on the other stage) draining a large crowd with their eclectic mix of surf rock beach goth often bringing a country flair in an already busy mix. After all, it was their festival, and the new home of their music celebration, which hopefully will stay there for a Growlers Seven, Eight and Beyond.
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