SAN FRANCISCO — For the Oh Sees, musical freak outs are serious business. The L.A. band returned to its former home on Monday to kick off its tour playing three sold-out shows at The Chapel. The quintet’s incendiary set consisted of psychedelic garage rock that was both nostalgic and out there.
The nearly two-hours-long performance featured insane guitar solos, synchronized percussive pummeling from the band’s two drummers, washes of synth noise, rhythmic organ stabs and thick chugging bass lines—all attended to with an endearing air of professionalism. The Oh Sees are good at what they do, and what they do is make weird music.
After setting up their own gear onstage, the band launched into the synth-heavy “Nite Expo,” from 2017’s Orc. The poppy synthesizers soon gave way to punk-ish bar chords and driving beats, a little like the band’s musical evolution from garage rock to prog rock—only in reverse. The crowd moshed and churned as the band blasted through a pair of songs from earlier albums, including ’60s surf-vibe classic “Tidal Wave,” from the band’s live album. The most enthusiastic response was elicited by the opening chord progression of “The Dream” from 2011’s Carrion Crawler.
As is often the case live, Oh Sees jammed for close to 10 minutes, with guitarist-singer John Dwyer at one point positioning his mic in front of his guitar’s amplifier to better capture the ensuing fuzzed-out and wah-drenched solo while the rhythm section chugged away like a freight train. Eventually the jam mellowed and Dwyer hummed another verse before segueing instantly to the first song on new album Face Stabber, “The Daily Heavy,” by way of a squeaky dog toy that Dwyer squeezed rhythmically while drummers Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon laid down a steady groove.
Stationed at the center of the stage, the drummers formed the lynchpin of the performance. Whether trading of during Orc‘s”Jettisoned” or providing the insane drum fills on “Plastic Plant,” from 2016’s A Weird Exits, their dynamism and precision propelled the performance with their undeniable synergy which can only be cultivated with years of touring.
Dwyer, with his exaggerated facial contortions and mutant rock god guitar poses, served as the evening’s other focal point. Whether playing an elaborate guitar part with one hand while sipping a beer with the other, or asking the sound guy to turn down the bass in his vocal mic because he wants it “to sound real nasally, like my mother,” the iconoclastic frontman, dressed in his standard jorts and a T-shirt, was endlessly entertaining.
The band’s set crossed multiple genres with the Melvins-like hard rock of “Ticklish Warrior,” from A Weird Exits, to the punk noise of “Gholü,” from Face Stabber. Midway through the set Dwyer invited a pair of saxophone players onstage to join on Face Stabber‘s epic closing jam, “Henchlock.” The vintage Fender Rhodes keyboard sounds provided by Tomas Dolas set against the driving bass lines by Tim Hellman sounded like a mashup between 1970s-era Miles Davis and Iggy Pop and the Stooges as the band jammed on the key-heavy riff for more than 15 minutes.
Other crowd favorites included “I Come From the Mountain,” from 2011’s Floating Coffin, and “Static God” off Orc—as evidenced by the enthusiastic moshing and crowd surfing. The band tore through a incendiary version of “C,” from 2018’s Smote Reverser, with bassist Hellman providing some bass fills as furry as his mustachioed upper lip.
Before launching into their final song, Dwyer said he was glad to be back in the Bay Area for the start of this tour.
“Sometimes we start our tours in Phoenix; that shit sucks,” he said.
The band closed out with an extended jam of “Wrong Idea.” At one point, Dwyer left the stage and came back with a new beer. His whistle wet, he pulled out a synthesized wind instrument from which he conjured more futuristic sounds.
The evening began with sets from Oh Sees’ Castle Face labelmates Prettiest Eyes and LFZ.
LFZ, the solo project of California musician Sean Smith, kicked off the evening with a subdued performance of psychedelic electronica that elicited comparisons to Krautrock bands like Neu! and Harmonia. Stationed at a table covered in electronic gear, Smith turned knobs and tweaked settings like a mad scientist as the crowd swayed to the washes of blips and beeps. Smith’s rich and pulsating soundscapes could have been outtakes from a Blade Runner soundtrack.
His careful construction of these sonic environs was accomplished with an elaborate combination of bass guitar, synthesizers and looping equipment that allowed him to layer sounds on top of each other. Unfortunately, to the audience this process most closely resembled someone doing their taxes on a bunch of really cool looking gear.
L.A.’s Prettiest Eyes followed with a powerful set of noisy rock. The trio, consisting of drums, keys and bass, blasted the audience with angular and discordant sounds. Dressed in black, drummer-vocalist Pachy Garcia smiled devilishly while pummeling away and singing like a punk Geddy Lee with a mosquito-like sneer.
Garcia enlisted a drum machine and stood on top of his drums to belt out “Johnny Come Home,” from the band’s latest album, Vol. 3. Bassist Marcos Rodriguez provided a clanging and chugging groove that locked with Garcia’s percussion to form a rhythm section that was rock solid, while still enjoyably muddy and loamy, a perfect foundation for keyboardist Paco Casanovaa’s washes of white noise and siren-like wails.
Follow writer David Gill at Twitter.com/Songotaku.