After last year’s Beach Goth ended with pouring rain, damaged equipment, and cancelled sets, The Growlers realized they needed to make a change. Parting ways with the Beach Goth name amidst legal issues, The Growlers Six was born. Fixing most, if not all, of the issues from 2016’s festival, rain-proofed stages and wide open spaces abounded at the festival’s new venue, the LA Waterfront in San Pedro. The result was a comfortable environment, where no stage was ever dangerously overcrowded and no one got wet – though luckily the weather cooperated.
With the logistics no longer a problem, the focus was all on the carefully curated lineup, an irresistibly quirky collection of new and old acts that somehow all fit perfectly together. Bouncing around between the three main stages, I heard everything from reggae to punk to Southern Gothic, a monstrous mixture that only makes sense in person. Thankfully, the costume party imperative of Beach Goth also survived the shift. For a Halloween lover like me, it was such a joy to see so many people embracing their weirdness in costume and enjoying their alter ego selves, all while listening to some objectively awesome music.
As I brush off stray confetti and smudges of skull makeup, I haven’t yet lost that serotonin glow that comes with a great fest experience. How could one stop grinning after being in the middle of a mosh pit full of witches, skeletons, clowns, and an innumerable amount of human bananas? With mind and heart full of two days of amazing performances from over forty bands, it’s difficult to even begin to reflect on it without becoming misty-eyed. The following are just a few of the many highlights from the jam-packed two day festival.
Playing an afternoon set at the middle stage was the garage rock quartet The Paranoyds. Dressed in matching dalmatian onsies, complete with ears and tails, the band tore through a set of noisy garage punk. Their vocals took on a certain lo-fi charm as the three female vocalists, friends since high school, shouted in unison into the microphones. Despite having released their debut EP After You just over a year ago, the had the stage presence of a much more seasoned group.
A quartet of nuns in sunglasses took the small stage in the afternoon to play a uncharacteristically rocking set of music, of which the convent could never have approved. All joking aside, La Luz was every bit a revelation as their name, meaning “the light” in Spanish, suggests. Although their harmonies were heavenly, their guitar licks were downright devilish, epitomizing the dark surfer rock aesthetic that coursed through the festival. Originally from Seattle, the recent LA transplants cruised through their spooky set with practiced nonchalance as the crowd threw confetti and sprayed silly string into the air.
Grammy winning Malian artists Tinariwen brought their unique genre of “tuareg guitar rock” from the heart of the Sahara to the main stage. Dressed in traditional desert garb, the band sang a collection of mesmerizing songs in their native language of Tamashek. Combining hand pans and bongos with bluesy electric guitars, the result was a beautiful mixture of traditionalism and modernism. Even when a prolonged audio feedback issue threatened to put an early end to their set, they never lost their amicable composure. They were men of few words, but they summed everything up with a simple question: “Are you happy?” The crowd answered with a resounding “Yeah!”
Veteran rapper Juvenile performed a late afternoon set to a laid-back audience. Among his most crowd pleasing singles were 2003’s number one hit “Slow Motion” and the 1999 classic “Back That Azz Up.” Even in 2017, everyone seemed to know the words as they sang and twerked along, beers in hand.
CIGARETTES AFTER SEX
If you ever dreamed of watching the sunset while being sung beautiful ambient lullabies, Cigarettes After Sex’s set was your chance. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Greg Gonzalez’ hypnotic tenor is what ultimately coaxed the sun below the horizon. A palpable sensation of calm floated through the softly swaying crowd as Gonzalez crooned his way through angsty songs such as “Each Time You Fall In Love.” Any negative feelings were pushed away as the sounds of languid guitar and muted percussion expanded and contracted in the evening air, leaving wistful smiles on the faces of all those lucky enough to witness it.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS
A high point of the night was the killer set by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, taking place at the middle stage in the second to last slot of the night. Although this was only their second show after a four year hiatus from touring, there wasn’t a trace of rust in their performance. Legendary frontwoman Karen O filled the whole stage with her bombastic personality, growling with the mic in her mouth and holding back nothing from the thousands gathered. She asked fans to remember to love each other with “Maps” and passed around giant inflatable eyeballs during “Zero.” And yes, heads were rolling as the infectious onstage energy pulsed through the ecstatic crowd.
Very much in their element, The Growlers closed the night with an extended hour and a half set. Wearing skull makeup and matching onsies, they beamed out at the crowd with satisfied grins, seeing a success where last year’s mishaps had been. In regards to their new venue, frontman Brooks Nielsen proudly proclaimed “This is our new home!” They went on to play a satisfying set, including, “One Million Lovers,” “City Club,” and a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “100 Years Ago.” As I giddily walked the half mile back to where my car was parked, I heard the final notes of The Growlers’ set still ricocheting off the ocean. Day 1 had come to a close, and what a phenomenal day it had been.
With their quirky brand of stoner surf rock, The Pesos kicked off day two of the fest, playing to a small crowd of early birds but having an absolute blast all the while. The guys were so laid back, they even had a member whose sole purpose seemed to be shaking the tambourine. Lead singer Yan Pessino leaned into the mic stand, embodying ease in every slurred lyric. Eventually he climbed down to join the audience, starting a miniature dance party with the crowd as everyone headbanged in unison.
Headed by fearless lead singer Dani Miller, Surfbort played a punishingly loud set at the small stage early in the day. The Brooklyn punk quartet let it all hang out throughout their set, which was messy and crazed in the best way possible. There is something about a complete and total lack of inhibition that is frighteningly electric, and Surfbort embodied this with with their wild performance. Naturally, Miller wound up performing several songs while laying on the pavement in front of the stage, as fans and friends of the band helped her scream the lyrics into the microphone. Overall, the set left us with the refreshing sense of freedom, having suitably shouted and danced out any aggression.
Warren Thomas, a friend and former member of The Growlers and a Beach Goth regular, was back again with his current project, The Abigails. Strutting around the stage in a vaguely western-inspired outfit with an eyepatch and a single crutch, Thomas’ costume was lost on us, but the weirdness worked just fine. With all the swagger of a drunken cowboy, Thomas hobbled back and forth across the stage, drawling monotonously in his deep bass. With twangy guitars and slow, sprawling drum beats, the music was notably Southern Gothic inspired, which fit strangely well with the tone of the fest.
Having previously the Regrettes perform, I joined the crowd of onlookers, eager to hear their special brand of spirited teen punk. The quartet began their set in their usual polished-beyond-their-years fashion, but after only two songs, a crazed woman on a mission of destruction put an end to that. Dressed in a superhero costume, the woman shoved her way through the crowd, pushed past security into the press pit, actually punched a photographer in the face, and proceeded to climb onto the stage to assault lead singer Lydia Night, all before anything was done to stop her. The band immediately rushed off the stage as the woman was tackled and taken away, but the damage was irrevocably done. A shocked audience stood by, unable to process what they’d just witnessed, until guitarist Genessa Gariano came back onstage to announce that The Regrettes would be unable to finish their set. Only thereafter did people begin to trickle away, shaking their heads in disbelief.
By the time the B-52s came out, a huge crowd had gathered, full of fans from every generation. Though time had aged them, it had not diminished their energy at all, and they playfully poked fun at themselves for being old. Some songs, like the mall anthem “Funplex,” were admittedly a bit dated, in an era where young people no longer hang out at the mall, but this was part of their charm. Plus, they had enough timeless tracks in their set that it hardly mattered – “Rock Lobster” anyone? Naturally, everyone was eager to hear their biggest hit, “Love Shack,” which the B-52s cleverly waited until the end to play.
Pop-punk powerhouse and former frontwoman of Gossip Beth Ditto was welcomed heartily by the crowd that had gathered at the main stage. As the sun slowly dipped below the horizon, Ditto belted out her most dance-worthy anthems, such as “I Wrote the Book” and “Standing in the Way of Control,” as well as a few songs from her latest full length release, Fake Sugar. Full of self deprecating jokes, Ditto’s confidence was obvious as she strutted around the stage, calling out to her “fellow fat girls” in the crowd. Self deprecation aside, Ditto’s powerful voice was phenomenal live, and her natural skill as a performer was not lost on the audience.
From the viewpoint of the middle of the crowd, the buzz was obvious ahead of Julian Casablancas’ early evening slot. Chatter was rampant, a lot of it sounding much like, “Well I don’t know, but I do like the Strokes.” When Casablancas finally took the stage, thirty minutes after his scheduled time, the crowd immediately went wild, screaming his name with alarming fervor. For the Strokes fans, his set with the Voidz may have been surprising, as it was far noisier and more metal-leaning than what the Strokes are known for. Within a song or two a mosh pit had erupted center stage, and soon enough everyone was happily shoving each other. Casablancas took the time to slow his set down with a beautiful rendition of “I’ll Try Anything Once,” a clear crowd favorite, before bringing the energy back up with the fuzzy “Nintendo Blood.” Unfortunately, his set was cut short to try and correct the schedule, which had been behind since early afternoon.
In true Beach Goth fashion, The Growlers closed out the weekend with another hour and a half set, joined briefly by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who had played earlier in the night. Overall, The Growlers Six was a triumphant redemption of a festival tradition known for embracing individualism and encouraging self-expression. As I look forward to the next year’s fest, I can’t help but already feel a bit nostalgic for the music-filled weekend and the warm feeling of community that it harbored.