The Growlers’ Snow Ball III (Night Two) at the Wiltern

The Growlers bring their signature Beach Goth style to Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theatre for two nights of Christmas-themed theatrics!

It’s the second week of January. Christmas is over, and you’ve got the credit card bill and weight gain to prove it. The excitement of New Year’s Eve has disappeared, replaced with morning-after regrets and the realization that you’re making the same bad decisions that you were in 2018. All you’ve got to look forward to now is the upcoming semester of school and, if you’re me, your impending return to Canada. The going is getting tough.

Allow me to transport you back to a more magical time. A time full of whimsy, mischief, and light debauchery. It’s December 22nd. Christmas is approaching, you’re finished with school and work, and your best friend Mariah has just arrived in San Diego despite almost having her entire vacation cancelled the day it was supposed to begin. You drive to Los Angeles for what will become one of the most special concerts of your life: it’s night two of The Growlers’ Snow Ball, the self-proclaimed “beach goth” band’s third annual holiday extravaganza at the Wiltern Theatre.

Havin’ a ball at Snow Ball III.

The Growlers are big in the Southern California surf/garage/psych rock scene, and for good reason. Formed in 2006, the band has developed a unique sound that’s immediately recognizable as distinctively their own. Despite numerous changes to their lineup, frequent label switches, and explorations of new musical styles, one constant that underpins The Growlers’ music is vocalist Brooks Nielsen’s signature raspy vocals. When they’re not making music, The Growlers also host their annual Beach Goth festival (now put on independently by the band after legal issues with the Observatory in 2016) and frequently tour the globe. During their live shows, the band is known for their wild costumes and elaborate stage designs. Even knowing this, I still wasn’t prepared for what I’d see at Snow Ball.

Leading up to the show…

Despite not being die-hard Growlers fans, Mariah and I planned to make the trip to LA for the second night of Snow Ball. When tickets went on sale, we were aghast at the roughly $60 price tag. “Who do they think they are, Beyonce?” “No openers? How egotistical!” Surprisingly (to us), the Saturday show sold out and people were reselling tickets for upwards of $100 each. Despite this, we set off for Los Angeles on December 22nd with the hope that we’d end up at the show that night. After dealing with numerous people from Craigslist who we believe were scammers, we finally secured tickets from two people we found on The Growlers’ subreddit (pro tip for finding legit resale tickets!). An hour before doors were set to open, we found ourselves in a line that extended down Wilshire Boulevard and wrapped around the corner.

The big reveal

Have you ever actually stopped in your tracks? I used to think that was just a phrase used in novels for hyperbolic effect: “She stepped through the doorway and stopped in her tracks.” However, upon having my ticket successfully scanned to enter the Wiltern, I stepped through the doorway and stopped in my tracks. I had not anticipated the level of production The Growlers had curated for this show.

Red and white striped candy canes lined either side of the path into the main lobby. Upon closer inspection, these “candy canes” were actually joints, or “doobies” as Mariah called them. She is actually a middle aged dad. “Snow Ball” was spelled out in glittery letters suspended from the ceiling. To our right was a spot to take photos with Biker Santa, straight ahead was a spot to take photos with the Grinch. Christmas carolers covering The Growlers’ songs greeted you as you descended the stairs to the lower level of the venue. Balloons, signature holiday-themed drinks, inflatable snowmen – there was so much going on we surely didn’t see it all. Decorations aside, the Wiltern is a beautiful and historic venue worthy of commendation on its own. Mariah and I immediately realized why ticket prices were so high for the Snow Ball shows and felt bad for being so ruthlessly critical of The Growlers in the weeks leading up to the show.

“Candy canes”

The DJs that kept us occupied before the main event were spinning straight bangers for an hour and a half – fun old tunes, Motown, The Smiths, nothing pretentious. Just after 8:30, they made an abrupt exit as the lights dimmed. Christmas music began playing, and a feeling of excitement and suspense was palpable throughout the sold-out crowd. As the curtains were whisked open, shrieks and gasps could be heard throughout the venue.

The stage was unveiled, revealing a life-size recreation of the hotel and vacancy sign from the Problems III music video, now dubbed the Snow Ball III Hotel. Set against a mountainous backdrop, the color of the lights illuminating the set would change throughout the night to fit the mood of each song. The musicians were wearing white pants, bow ties, and red, fur-trimmed coats. However, this wasn’t quite The Growlers yet – after dealing with some lineup changes in 2016, the “official” members (as far as I know) are only Brooks Nielsen on vocals, Matt Taylor on lead guitar, and Kyle Straka on keyboards and guitar. We’d have to wait a little longer for the full band.

Rooms 4 rent by the hour.

The never-ending setlist

The night started off with a rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, complete with a horn section and a cameo appearance by the Grinch himself. The aforementioned carolers then took the stage for a few songs, closing with “We Wish You a Merry Growlers Christmas”. Finally, we were asked to welcome to the stage “what’s left of The Growlers” as Nielsen, Taylor, and Straka joined the rest of the band (lineup changes, am I right?). They opened with “Night Ride” from 2016’s City Club amid deafening cheers.

Standout songs from the night’s setlist were plentiful and included: “One Million Lovers” and “Pet Shop Eyes” from 2013’s Hung at Heart, which everyone sang along to. “Black Memories” and “Love Test”, both from 2014’s Chinese Fountain. A cover of The Shirelles’ “Mama Said”, the perfect song for my preferred style of dancing. The 2017 single “Monotonía”, which I’d only been introduced to a few weeks before. “Navaeh”, heartfelt and acoustic, from last July’s Casual Acquaintances. The songs were really just a vehicle for Brooks’ top-notch dancing, which Mariah and I spent the night mimicking. I’m happy to say I’ve added some new moves to my arsenal (left hand over stomach, right hand in the air as if holding a microphone, rocking side to side).

The only two songs they didn’t play that I would have liked to hear were “The Daisy Chain” and “World Unglued” from City Club. Other than that, I heard every Growlers song I’ve ever wanted to hear. In one show. Talk about bang for your buck. I’m surprised I didn’t burst into spontaneous tears when “Someday” started and I finally heard my favorite Growlers song live. I’m more surprised I didn’t cry during “Lonely This Christmas”, as Brooks serenaded each and every one of us while fake snow cascaded over him.

The only snow I ever want to see is fake snow floating down onto Brooks Nielsen’s head.

Like I said, The Growlers were never my favorite band. I like their music a lot, but there was just something about them that prevented me from entering obsession territory. Since Snow Ball, everything has changed. Mariah and I listened to their cover of “Lonely This Christmas” on repeat (literally, we put it on repeat) for seven days.  I’ve begun my descent into watching every video related to the band on YouTube. If your Tinder anthem is a Growlers song, I’m swiping right. The obsession grows each day. There is only The Growlers.

The Growlers closed out Snow Ball III with “Going Gets Tough” from Chinese Fountain. It’s a song of hope and happier days to come, and also a song that gave me momentary comfort during the hellish two hours on December 20th wherein I thought Mariah’s vacation to San Diego was cancelled and I was going to be Lonely This Christmas. It was a beautiful and pure send off after a dreamlike, awe-inspiring night. Post-Growlers, the opening notes of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (naturally) rang out. Mariah (not Carey) and I grabbed each other’s hands, I kicked off my shoes for some reason, and a holiday dance party and sing-a-long ensued.

All in all, The Growlers played for about two and a half hours with no breaks. The costumes, the stage design, and the decorations throughout the Wiltern were completely over the top (in the best way) and exceeded any expectations I had had for the show. Whatever your opinion of their music is, you have to respect the level of effort, planning, and heart that The Growlers put into these Snow Ball shows. And while I’m sure the band does get enjoyment out of playing them, I like to believe shows like Snow Ball exist as a way to give back to their fans at the end of the year. So thank you to The Growlers for giving me what ended up being one of my favorite memories of 2018.

Andrea Renney loves crying to The Growlers, writing for KCR, and crying about not writing for KCR anymore. She wishes everyone at San Diego State a beautiful spring semester.

Written by: Andrea Renney
Pictures by: Andrea Renney
--From all of us at KCR, we'll miss you Andrea!

Dreams From The Stars: Cult of Personality

In this edition, Ahmad Dixon witnesses the origins of a cult revolving around his friend. This isn’t a dream. It’s an absolute nightmare!

My friend Sam is a peculiar person. We became friends about a year ago, right before college, and since then we’ve become relatively close. However, things between us have become pretty strained because of an incident that happened recently. We were walking around Kensington when I noticed a team of bald men in robes trailing behind us. At first I tried to ignore them, initially writing them off as local town color, but then I noticed that they had Sam’s dumb face embroidered on their chest. “Hey Sam, what’s up with those guys?” I asked before we turned a corner.

“Oh them?” he said unenthusiastically, “They’re just my cult.”

Out of all my friends I would have thought Sam would be the least likely to form a cult of personality. Once while working at coffee bean he was almost kidnapped and sold into slavery by pirates because he messed up an order. Although in hindsight it was kind of obvious. We visited a fortune teller once and she said that Sam was the reincarnation of Charlemagne, Ramses II, and a Manager of a Fort Lauderdale Best Buy. She told me that I was going to get crushed by an elephant. I usually don’t put much stock in fortune telling, past lives, and the like, but I was indeed crushed by an elephant a week later, which lead me to believe that that particular fortune teller was on the up and up.

Footage of Me Being Crushed

Since that day in Kensington, I never saw Sam unless his cult was somewhere near by. It began with three, middle aged, bald men, but then it grew and they added four, young, bald women. Then it was 15 bald men, women, and children. And finally it escalated to a crowd of around 35 people following around my friend during his day to day activities. They’d throw flower petals in the space directly in front of his feet, they’d venerate his trash as sacred artifacts (ever see an apple core in a gold plated box?), and I think one of them learned how to play lute in order to write songs in his honor. The songs were mostly just popular tunes with the word “baby” taken out and replaced with the name Sam.

Sam seemed utterly disinterested in this development in his life. I asked him how he felt about being a living god and he just shrugged and said, “them’s the brakes.” After he said that the cult would sometimes chant “them’s the brakes” for hours on end in a hypnotic meditation.

I tried not to talk to members of the cult due to the fact they all gave me the heeby jeebies but curiosity got the better of me and I asked one of them what they saw in Sam as a spiritual leader. They said, “The Sam is the bringer of happiness and salvation, without The Sam there would be no sunrise, no morning dew on the flowers, no order to the universe. The Sam is a being of infinite compassion and infinite wisdom.” I looked over to Sam to see that he was on the verge of tears due to being unable to open a jar of peanut butter. He pulled out his pocket knife and somehow cut himself flipping it open. Cult members almost trampled each other trying to catch his blood as it dripped from his finger. I heard later that this event is one of the more important parables in the Book of Sam.

I went over to Sam’s house in City Heights to return some books and things had obviously changed since the last time I was there. Outside the walls were covered in murals depicting Sam slaying dragons and the cosmos being born out of his mind. I like to believe reality existed before Sam was born but I have no proof to the contrary so I felt it was not my place to argue. Inside there were masses of people, of various nationalities, on their knees chanting and praying. Some were in tears because of their proximity to the so called creator of the universe. Sam was in his pajamas playing his Nintendo Switch.

I went up to my friend and asked how long he thought this could possibly continue. He said when he got tired of all the positive attention he was getting and when they stopped giving him fruit offerings on command. I said “you know you’re not actually a god right.” I regretted this outburst almost immediately because everyone in the house stopped chanting and looked at me. A hundred hands reached out to grab me and before I could realize what was happening I was in a cage. Sam continued to play Zelda as this was happening. I yelled at Sam to let me out but he again said, “them’s the brakes” and went about his day.

I’m not the type of person who likes to be confined for extended periods of time. Especially when I’m in spaces that aren’t big enough for me to sit down in. I survived on nothing but the stale bread and dirty water I was given twice a day. What felt like months passed and I began to have strange visions. Dancing colors of light, geometric shapes, vibrating amorphous blobs. My beard grew down to my chest. I was losing my mind.

One day Sam came to the front of the cage, drinking a cup of coffee. I didn’t respond because I thought it was another hallucination. He said I could come out, and I just looked straight ahead. He then opened the cage and I collapsed. “You know the door wasn’t locked right?” I would have been enraged if I wasn’t exhausted. “I don’t know why you decided to stand in there for three hours, you look awful.” He said between sips of coffee. I didn’t speak. “Oh and you don’t have to worry about that cult anymore, we were out on a hike and they saw an interesting rock. They decided to worship that instead.”

My relationship with Sam became pretty strained after I broke a chair over his head.