By DAN MACINTOSH, Photos By ALYSON CAMUS
With Los Angeles Waterfront in San Pedro as its oceanic backdrop, The Growlers band presented the two-night The Growlers 6, which succeeds the act’s annual Beach Goth festival. Being this close to All Hallows Eve, it was also as much Halloween party, as music festival, with many artists and attendees alike dressing up for the occasion. It was also a most eclectic musical assembly, featuring a wide variety of styles and nationalities on five different stages.
Mike Watt and The Secondmen
Appropriately, long time San Pedro resident Mike Watt was slotted an early appearance with his trio The Secondmen. Watt, who first made a name as a member of the groundbreaking Minutemen, has also shined in a latter-day incarnation of The Stooges. The Secondmen, though, is a jazzy and soulful combo that gives Watt plenty of room to stretch out on his bass. Watt may have well-established punk rock credentials, but he’s certainly no slouch as a musician and proved his advanced instrumental skills within this stripped-down group format.
Guided By Voices at Growlers 6
On paper, Day Two at first seemed to be the most talent-rich lineup. But like an underdog with something to prove, Day One turned out to be bountiful with musical goodness, too. Day One’s clear winner was Guided by Voices. Led by the eternally youthful Robert Pollard, this power-pop powerhouse performed like a house on fire. Whether playing the fan favorite “I Am a Scientist,” or pantomiming a tree for “I Am a Tree” (which looked particularly challenging for the already tipsy Pollard), the band’s British Invasion-inspired guitar rock had one particularly enthusiastic fan reacting with what can best be described as punk rock Zumba. Although most in the audience weren’t getting their aerobics for the week on, many were nevertheless grinning from ear to ear. This was, unquestionably, rock and roll nirvana.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs Making the Rounds
Although It’s been more than a minute since Yeah Yeah Yeahs released its last studio album, its lead singer Karen O obviously hasn’t missed a step. Like a less physically self-abusive Iggy Pop, O served notice she is still one of rock’s most watchable front women. While maneuvering her microphone hyperactively, like a snake handling religious zealot, and at the same time alternately cooing and screaming, O quickly had one of this festival’s biggest audiences hanging on her every vocal syllable and physical motion.
Day One of Growlers 6
Other Day One highlights included reggae rhythm legends Sly + Robbie laying down grooves with guest vocalist Mayor Hawthorne. The Weirdos brought old school punk goodness, which included brothers John Denney and Dix Denny, who have been playing together since way back in 1975, and still looked to be loving every minute of it. On the quieter side, Rostom was backed by a four-piece string section for a set of highly personal songs. Poor Amber Coffman presented a sweet set of singer/songwriter pop to a sparse crowd, as most were packed to see Modest Mouse on the opposite side of the grounds. Danny Brown and Juvenile each exemplified intelligently wordy hip-hop, while Cigarettes After Sex performed songs of doomed romance as the sun set over the shoreline.
Day Two meant less time with each act, as there were just too many choice performers to choose from. Dan Auerbach opened with “Waiting on a Song,” the title track to his latest album, and closed with the Lindsey Buckingham-esque “Shine on Me.” As a solo act, this guitar-playing half of The Black Keys can stretch out more musically, and mix in sweet soul and traditional country, along with his blues. Speaking of moonlighting, The Strokes’ front man Julian Casablancas was clearly having fun with his other band, The Voidz. Jonathan Richman, this festival’s rock elder statesman, mixed flamenco-inspired romantic songs with debonair dance moves for a tightly packed, highly effective half-hour.
B-52s Always in Style at Growlers 6
This second day was not just a boy’s club outing, however, as Beth Ditto moved and grooved with some highly entertaining dance songs. The B-52s, which features two funky women, provided one fine Halloween dance party soundtrack. Lastly, Girlpool – all dressed up for said party – starkly contrasted with B-52s by presenting much more serious feminine anthems.
To give this final day some added international flavor, Steel Pulse filled the air with politically charged Jamaican reggae, by way of England, whereas Fela Kuti’s spirit lived on through extended Antibalas jams.
The Growlers 6 festival was truly the ultimate variety offering, presenting a little bit of everything. It was like visiting the Halloween store and trying on most every costume, just for fun.
Dan MacIntosh is a music reviewer and writer for CaliforniaRocker.com and several other music sites. The photography and music reviews of Alyson Camus can be found here and at NycRockLiveAndRecorded.com