How California rockers The Growlers suddenly became the latest "it" band is rather unclear.
The act's latest full-length, City Club ( on Cult Records ), is hardly a departure from its previous five, and the involvement of co-producer and Strokes front man Julian Casablancas counts as irrelevant. ( He has been involved with the band for years. ) What is obvious is that, as The Growlers' sold-out show at The Metro on March 10 proved, the band mastered the art of making music that makes "grooving" sexy and fashionable again.
Granted, The Growlers ( vocalist Brooks Nielsen, keyboards/banjoist Kyle Straka and guitarist Matt Taylor ) have always tweaked California rock with a touch of weirdness while rescuing it from the dullness of the early Eagles ( "peaceful easy feeling?," uh no. ). Where Glenn Frey and Don Henley created soundtracks for a glimmering metropolis with a touch of hip twang, The Growlers gently mix pop, country, surf, beat, reggae, and Goth ( they call it "Beach Goth" ) and quietly boil it down to a low key concoction. The combination of Neilsen's oddball lyrics and mid-range pseudo croon with Taylor's other worldly guitar work produce dreamy, engaging, wicked little slow jaws that throb rather then percolate. With these guys the point seems to be to bliss out rather than to rock out.
If City Club suggests a variety of styles and flavors co-habituating in the same song, the biggest achievement, as is typical of The Growlers entire discography, is the way it absorbs them without sacrificing the personality of the band. The title track provides Neilsen with an atypical solid hook, but that's as close to AM radio as this gets.
The show at The Metro revealed all the components the CD suggested, but the addition of three touring musicians elevated what feels subtle on record, turning things into a mildly churning near-three-hour jam session. Maybe City Club takes a little time to cast its spell, but the show was enchanting in a slightly dirty funky way from the start.
Trading in western wear ( those embroidered suits made them look like a Mariachi band ) for something more utilitarian ( skull caps and dusters ), the band kicked off with "Wandering Eyes" and rolled out with hearty helpings of older material ( "Gay Thoughts," "Good Advice," "People Don't Change Blues," "Big Toe" ) mixed with the new. ( As expected, "City Club" came late in the show and gave Nielsen his big pop moment, while "Dope On A Rope" and "The Daisy Chain" were playful and sweet. ) For all Nielsen's low-key humor and goofy dance moves, the night clearly belonged to Taylor, whose elegiac guitar lines gave the music a haunting, supernatural allure.
If The Growlers seem to embrace subtlety as their strongest personality traits, Chicago punk queer favorites Meat Wave love shitting all over it. The trio ( vocalist/guitarist Chris Sutter, bassist Joe Gac and drummer Ryan Wisniack ) broke out with the ferocious Delusion Moon ( SideOneDummy Records, 2015 ) managing not only to establish themselves while re-igniting Chicago's flagging punk scene ( along with Ne Hi and Twin Peaks ) and inadvertently justifying the importance of the local DIY scene. With storied producer Steve Albini twiddling the knobs, the release of the new The Incessant ( SideOneDummy Records ) promised to be the first major local event of the year.
The three of them still look like escapees from the old Waltons TV show, but the sheer thunder of Delusion Moon has turned into something bizarre and unexpected here.
My favorite is the opener, "To Be Swayed," which finds Sutter whipping off lyrics at a moderate level ( for him ) over a bed of pinging rhythms courtesy of Wizniak and Gac. Suddenly the song goes bonkers as Sutter rips through the chorus with an elegant and terrifying vocal swoon that's positively hair raising and delightful and the song comes off as alluring and brutal. Of course it is a Meat Wave record and there are plenty of muscular punk rave-ups ( "Glass Teeth," "Run You Out," "Tomosaki" ) along with sharp detours in strange directions. "Leopard Skin Jet Ski" toys with arch art rock while depicting an innocent nerd day dream while "Birdland" plummets into existential despair and what sounds like a vast bottom less canyon.
For all of that experimentation and versatility when Meat Wave hit the stage at The Empty Bottle in front of a rabid audience for its sold-out show on Feb. 25 ( they were turning non-ticket holders away by the droves ), all bets were off. Live, the band still packs a merciless punchand hearing chunks of The Incessant live turned all that artiness on its head with a vengeance.
Coupled with Ne Hi's sold-out show the night before at the same venue, its clear that the Chicago DIY scene is thriving.
Heads up: The second PWR BTM show at Subterranean Tavern on May 31 is sold out.