REVIEW: The Growlers strike sunny, spooky tone with Beach Goth

Renowned MC and beatboxer Doug E. Fresh commands the crowd at Los Angeles State Historic Park. (Photo from Instagram)

After the cancellation of this year’s FYF Fest, Southern California festival goers needed a short-term alternative for the dog days of summer. Those prayers were answered in the form of a daylong gathering at Los Angeles State Historic Park.

On Aug. 5, The Growlers invited fans for the seventh annual edition of Beach Goth. The festival, whose name comes from the band’s self-described sound and aesthetic, brought artists and longtime Growlers associates together for a glamorous, albeit morbid, celebration of the Orange County-based band’s career thus far.

The festival’s imagery took obvious influence from artists like Misfits and the Grateful Dead, as well as from the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”). Skeletal recreations of pop culture aesthetics served as the backdrop for each stage, from burlesque models and drunken cowboys to a Gothic interpretation of Jesus Christ.

Attendees could also explore the village of pop-up shops scattered near the festival’s entrance. Among the vendors were Latino-owned clothing brands, band merchandisers and a record store tent by Burger Records, to which The Growlers are signed.

The eclectic lineup featured artists from diverse musical backgrounds. Early in the day, glam rock oddball Kirin J. Callinan performed at the “Death of a Rat Cabaret” stage sporting a white tank top and chainmail around his head. Callinan’s set at Beach Goth was his first performance in the U.S. in nearly a year. The controversial singer-songwriter has kept a low profile since, an effort reflected in his mid-afternoon set — a stark departure from his typically vivacious onstage presence.

Afterward, GWAR, a metal band often defined by its live theatrics and grotesque costumes, brought its unique brand of shock rock to the main stage. GWAR is known for its comical fake mutilations of celebrities and figures from current events during live performances. At Beach Goth, its victim was a roadie dressed up as President Donald Trump, who spurted fake blood onto the crowd’s frontlines.

Hip-hop fans were not disappointed at Beach Goth either. MCs Bushwick Bill of Geto Boys and Doug E. Fresh were a breath of fresh air between the swaths of rock acts with their mid-afternoon performances. Bushwick Bill delivered endearing one-liners about his experience with dwarfism and violent interactions with foes past. Meanwhile, Doug E. Fresh brought the cheery raps and exceptional beatboxing that made his career.

The Voidz, led by The Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas, played the sunset slot on the main stage and was easily the most memorable performance of the day. The set mostly featured songs from the band’s 2018 LP “Virtue.” Casablancas’ vocals sounded as tortured and charismatic as they have in years. Notably, Casablancas’ songwriting chops with the Voidz were highlighted in the band’s stunning performance. While the versatile band brought influences from metal and experimental rock, the songs maintained their alt-rock accessability. Even so, Casablancas’ background with the Strokes undoubtedly informed the band’s most memorable songs, including highlights “Leave It In My Dreams” and “Lazy Boy.”

Unfortunately, the audience failed to match the impassioned performance of The Voidz. This gap in energy ultimately flustered Casablancas, whose growing impatience peaked toward the end of the band’s set. He implored his bandmates to hurry and “get the f-ck out of here” upon being informed that two songs were left in the set. Yet, Casablancas and the Voidz finished their set unfazed with heartfelt performances of “Wink” and “Where No Eagles Fly.”

Predictably, The Growlers closed the day’s festivities with an hour-and-a-half-long set that spanned their career highlights, from their 2009 debut “Are You In or Out?” to the recently released “Casual Acquaintances.” Their unique brand of surf-tinged, jangly pop rock pro served as a fitting comedown after a full day in the sun. Beating the Los Angeles State Historic Park’s 10 p.m. curfew by only a few minutes, the band ended its set with the nostalgic cut “Going Gets Tough” from their 2014 album “Chinese Fountain.”

As a whole, the festival succeeded in providing a unique aesthetic and niche lineup to the Southern California festival circuit. While sedated crowds and a disorganized layout detracted from the experience at times, The Growlers should have no issue recreating their glam-goth festival in the foreseeable future.