Brooks Neilsen may be lacking in stature, but he makes up for it in personality and stage presence. The frontman for Costa Mesa five-piece the Growlers showed off his charismatic prowess on Friday night with the band for a near 90-minute set of their self-proclaimed “beach goth.” The packed Marquis Theater frantically danced, moshed and bounced the entire time.
Grounded in waltz-esque compositions in 3/4 time, the Growlers’ sonic style gelled around Kyle Straka’s haunting keyboards, anchoring Matt Taylor and Anthony Perry’s jaunty guitar and bass (respectively) and Scott Montoya’s understated drums. The set evoked memories of Murder City Devils laced with the Doors, along with a healthy vein of surf-fuzzy psychedelic riffs that rounded it all out.
But it was Neilsen’s smooth, crooning vocals that defined the groove. Sometimes he sounded like Lee Hazlewood if he were huffing helium. A growing reputation for playing somewhat tipsy was evident — but in a good way, for the most part, as he swayed around the stage. At one point he backed away from the mic and headed toward the back of the stage. He seemed to be challenge someone in a group of fans and bouncers off of stage left while the band kept kept playing. At another point he became frustrated with stage-invading body-surfers. Nothing too controversial came of it, though.
Highlights of the set included an upbeat “Someday,” an almost polka-esque “Gay Thoughts,” a super-fuzzed-out “People Don’t Change” and a gothic “Salt On A Slug.” The crowd was delighted — and pretty liquored up themselves — throughout the whole set, and Neilsen fed off their energy. He’s got a big personality, and that night he beat the audience with it — and they loved it.
Melissa Hirsch is a Denver-based photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.