Vancouver Special: Vundabar at the Fox Cabaret

Vundabar playing at the Fox Cinema

Boston-based “sludgy jangly pop” (per their Facebook About page) trio Vundabar went on an expansive North American tour with a number of different supporting acts.

Vundabar came to Vancouver’s Fox Cabaret with support from El Monte, California’s The Red Pears and Washington’s Le Grotto.

The Fox Cabaret is a historic venue in Vancouver’s hip Mount Pleasant neighborhood that hosts touring bands, themed dance parties, and intimate comedy shows. Until 2013, the Fox was actually an adult movie theater known as the Fox Cinema. After a thorough cleaning and a major facelift, the Fox Cabaret was opened in 2014 among the craft breweries, vegan donut shops, and themed bars that populate the area.

I arrived at the Fox around 9:00 and Le Grotto was midway through their set. The venue wasn’t full yet, but everyone who was there seemed into the band’s ‘70s-inspired rock (including me). I’d call them garage rock, but their Facebook genre is listed as “Vaping Rules”. Take my label with a grain of salt, I suppose.

The Red Pears were up next. For a sad Canadian girl like me who’s perpetually missing the Southern California music scene, they were a nostalgic treat to have in Vancouver. They reminded me so much of all the local San Diego surf/garage rock bands that I miss dearly. As The Red Pears concluded their set and began packing up their equipment, the familiar sound of the Growlers rang out over the speakers. If you read my review of the Growlers’ Snow Ball show, you know that for me, there is only the Growlers. I danced around to “Who Loves the Scum?”, inadvertently clapping at the end as if I were actually at a Growlers show.

Fortunately, The Fox Cabaret really knows how to get people excited for their next act.

Vundabar came out around 10:00 as the crowd moved in toward the stage that has had countless pornographic films projected above it. They opened with “$$$”, a six-minute-long song from 2018’s Smell Smoke. Things were immediately off to an uproarious start.

I find Vundabar’s sound a bit hard to describe. I hear a lot of grunge in the tracks from their newest record, Smell Smoke. However, the first single from that record, “Acetone”, leans much more towards pop punk. Their self-imposed “sludgy jangly pop” label feels pretty accurate, especially for 2015’s Gawk. Genre labels aside, the energy they put into their shows is infectious, and the crowd at the Fox reciprocated by keeping things rowdy throughout their set.

The band played all their well-known favorites, including “Alien Blues”, “Holy Toledo”, and “Oulala”. Lead vocalist Brandon Hagen’s signature rapport with his bandmates and with the crowd made everything extra fun, particularly when a piece of the drum set went missing and we had to wait for a replacement to be brought out.

Unfortunately, Vundabar’s set was cut short to allow time to set up for the 80s vs. 90s dance party that was scheduled after the show. For once, the band’s “last song” actually was the last song, as the crowd’s cheers for an encore were left unfulfilled. I, however, was treated to yet another song by the Growlers as the 80s vs. 90s DJs set up their booth. If we weren’t going to get a Vundabar encore, dancing around to “City Club” was good enough for me.

Written by: Andrea Renney

A “Vancouver Special” is a popular style of home that was built in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in mass quantities between the years of 1965 to 1985. The homes are boxlike and visually unappealing, often featuring a second-floor balcony on the front of the house and a stucco exterior with brick accents. Vancouver Specials are still seen in most Greater Vancouver neighborhoods despite the city’s major gentrification and increase in property development over the last few decades.
Vancouver Special is also a new series on the KCR College Radio Blog featuring show reviews, interviews, and maybe other things located in/related to Vancouver. The series is written by KCR member and ex-SDSU exchange student Andrea Renney. This is KCR Canada.

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!

When Bologna Turns Into Steak

Indie? Grunge Pop? Surf Rock? Try and wrap your mind around the genre of the hard hitting album, “Hung at Heart,” by The Growlers.

Frontman Brooks Nielsen provides the raspy vocals for this incredibly heartfelt album. From the get-go, the song “Someday” starts off the album with shimmering guitar riffs and smooth bass lines. This first track is a love letter to a significant other, promising better days and better meals.

“When tall boys turn into champagne,” Nielsen sings as the song continues to foresee how he wants to provide a better life for his loved one.

As a whole, the album is a perfect cohesion of love and lust.

With the track “One Million Lovers,” it’s hard not to see why this burden of love hangs so heavy on the heart of Nielsen. The song describes a love that possibly was lost or maybe a love that can’t be let go. Lead guitarist, Matt Taylor, provides upbeat strumming patterns with glimmering tones that will leave  you “…dreaming of her the whole day though.”

It’s hard to find a favorite song on this album, but one track that attention should be brought to is “Pet Shop Eyes.”  Nielsen’s charismatic attitude comes through in this song, explaining how he’s not buying into another girl’s advances due to the sad and blasé way about her. He compliments her looks but tells her to move along, even joking that her sadness has him on the verge tears.

All in all, if you’re looking for chill album to throw on in the background of your next party or if you’re looking for an album to make you feel at ease with your own personal strife, “Hung at Heart” is what you’re going to want play all the way through. The band has made an album that is danceable yet introspective at the same time. Released in 2013, “Hung at Heart” is reminiscent of late ’70s surf rock and blues.

Featured Image: “Hung at Heart” cover art, all rights reserved to The Growlers

Now Listening: City Club

Hey Aztecs! Here on Now Listening with Lala I am very pleased to announce that The Growlers have finally released their new album, City Club. I have been patiently awaiting new music from this Southern California band, and am very excited to break it down for you.

The Growlers are typically known for the coined term “Beach Goth”, which is also a music festival that is happening this October in Orange County. Now, this particular band combines garage rock with elements of surf, folk, and a bit of a rockabilly 60’s vibe. Their unique sound is what has given them such popularity in the last few years.

City Club, however, strays from the typical country rock that we’ve seen from The Growlers in the past. Produced by Julian Casablancas and Shawn Everett, this album contains a much more synth funk and retro vibe. Pulling elements from the disco era, the tracks on this album have a more electro pop sound than previous albums from The Growlers.

Not that different is any bad, City Club is side stepping into a direction that the band has not dipped their toes into yet. This album is still fantastic overall, but it just might take a few listens to warm up to the tracks.

A few popular and favorite tracks on the album so far include the first track, City Club. Upbeat and very dancey, this track still maintains that Growler’s attitude, full of reverb, just less synth. In addition, World Unglued is a very good track. Reminding me most similarly to The Growler’s previously folky sound, this particular track talks about just letting go of the world around you and setting yourself free. Swanky and eclectic, The Growler’s really nailed it with this song.

Take a listen to these awesome tracks below and don’t forget to tune into my show, In Your Speaker, from 3-4pm PST on Tuesdays! ❃