Californian psych-poppers The Growlers have a gift. For this, the first night of two sold-out shows at The Shacklewell Arms in Hackney, that gift turns a manky cave into a buzzing surf-side club, where you’re considered a weirdo if you’re not dancing.
The Shacklewell may be a trendy east London hot spot, but that’s no excuse for its sound system to be as muddy as the neighbouring canal. Mixed with The Growlers’ layers of reverb, it makes the whole night pretty inaudible – summery psychedelia turned into a fuzz of noise.
Does it matter? Nope, not at all. It’s that gift. The simplest of melodies fight their way through, the percussion claws its way out of the actual hole the drummer is playing in, and the '50s guitar jangles from song to song.
While you can’t make out a word coming out of the mouth of front man Brooks Nielsen, the essence is there and that’s all that really matters. In a way, the fuzz in your face only adds to the eeriness of what the band calls "beach goth".
For those at the back, some of it may sound like screaming zombie corpses in the wings, with an air of The Monkees about it, of course. Further in, it’s more like a soundtrack to a Tarantino film – vintage, spooky, yet also so happy.
The crowd is loving it. The room, packed to the brim, is swaying, jumping and wooping like it’s a high school prom.
‘Graveyard’s Full’, the opener from 2010’s 'Hot Tropics' gets one of the biggest cheers of the night. Its slightly different feel and beat, verging on funk, breaks up the more similar tracks from this year’s release, ‘Hung at Heart’.
But the new stuff goes down just as well. ‘Salt On A Slug’ could accompany a ride on a ghost train, and ‘Someday’ is beautifully manic.
‘Burden Of The Captain’ turns into a mass shout-along for its "more, more, more", sung at every opportunity, even though it’s only in the song about three times. ‘Row’ ends on a massive high with its excellent riff and bass, like a mangled version of ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’.
The Growlers, aided by vast amounts of whiskey, seem to bring together so many genres – psychedelia, garage, pop, funk, even disco – and just mould it into one hell of a good time, even if your lasting memory is dancing to white noise with a '50s guitar riff thrown in.
Next time, we can hope for a bigger and better venue: The Growlers totally deserve it. You just can’t do beach goth in these conditions!
Words by Gemma Hampson
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone - download the app here.