Last week I had the honor of tasting a bit of California right here on my own street in Madrid. The Growlers and Tomorrows Tulips played Wednesday November 6th at a small venue called Taboo in Malasaña, arguably a Spanish-style Williamsburg. In line outside there were several young men in beards and jean jackets. Inside there were several young women in doc martens and blue hair. The Growlers, a celebrated emblem of Southern California’s most current genre, I-don’t-give-a-fuck-and-I-like-waves, did a downright drunken job of taking a group of Spanish hipsters, handing them each a pair of metaphorical psychedelic shades, and transporting them to a place they might’ve heard of before: Cali baby, yeah.
Tomorrows Tulips, consisting of should be brothers, Alex Knost and Ford Archbold, recently released their first album “Experimental Jelly” out on Burger Records. The long haired blondes perform with The Growler’s drummer Scott Montoya and come out wrapped in tinsel and an ironic kind of merry. Singer Alex Knost lets his eyes shine out onto the crowd only sparingly, his face hidden by the classic blonde Pacific Ocean locks. A friend turns to me and makes a comment that watching this guy is like seeing Kurt Kobain in the flesh. It’s what everyone’s thinking but won’t say out loud, comparisons too obvious with so many little Kobain copies everywhere. But it really is. It’s like seeing Kurt Kobain in the flesh. The group is beachy, off-beat, and grumbly and sets an appropriate tone for The Growlers.
Knost stops the fun to mumble something into the mic before swaying off into the last tune. He doesn’t sing again and perhaps if the audience foresaw this last bit of noisey silence coming we would have tried to listen a little harder when he did say something. This last gooey mosh of a song keeps up with the nonchalant attitude but does it differently this time, an angrier disposition and a darker dissonance. It’s that same velvety jam that begs to be different and that we love but that in the end turns out just a little bit the same every time: knees jive to the no-beat, heads bend, eyes glaze in on the cool.
Still, there’s something sweet about the group. They could play at the infamous never ending pool party. Tomorrows Tulips doesn’t introduce themselves, against all Spanish social norms of formal presentation: beso, beso, encantado, encantada, and they don’t say goodbye either. Instead, they drift off stage with a fuck you attitude that somehow manages to be unoffensive and a nonchalance that leaves this audience shrugging and me looking up tickets home on my phone.
The Growlers come to play in a similar vain but walk on veterans of this waterfront twisted. Unlike Knost, lead singer Brooks Neilsen is talkative and charismatic but he speaks in a cool California English surely no one here can understand. Neilsen is humble and friendly, the first thing he mumbles: “All these people here just to see the lil’ ol’ Growlers.” He wears a classic LA hipster moustache, a clean army buzz, and a playful Simpson’s tee. He holds one mic in his hand for singing and uses another on the stand for reverby wailing. Neilsen starts singing and then he doesn’t stop. His voice is steady and weird, reminiscent of Julian Casablancas when the Strokes were new and unrefined. His demeanor is jovial and fun and he dances with one hand across his heart in a way later everyone will try to imitate.
Neilsen brings back the concept of the front man but like everything, he does it casually, never once picking up a guitar or looking out dramatically onto the crowd in a god-like fashion like I watched the Pixies’ Black Francis do one night later. The music stretches on for hours, with no discernible hits, no unfortunate ballads, no stops or slows, just one long steady tune that brings us up and down sedately like drugs at an almost crowded house party. Neilsen stops in between to introduce each song but the pauses compliment our casual drunk like a quick cigarette break outside. His voice combines with the other four instruments in a union that doesn’t allow anyone to stick out or solo. The lyrics reflect how we imagine the life of this Southern California band, filled to the brim with beer, boobs, and weed. During the encore Neilsen makes a joke about wet dreams and proceeds to play the tune crying, “We drink the devils blood inducing psychedelic trips / I used to fight but now I fiend.”
The Growlers play many new songs, famous for their consistent onslaught of new music. While nothing stands out or sounds particularly different, there is something easy about their unambiguous and definite sound. They don’t follow the rules and they don’t give a shit. They deliver the audience an unpretentious show and an intoxicating feeling of funfunfun. Watching their set is being invited on the ride. Neilsen closes, “I’ll see you all at the bar.”
Alexa Carrasco is a semi-recent college graduate and a full-time freelance everything. Alexa enjoys writing obscure poetry, making inaccessible experimental short films, and barreling through crowds at live shows.