Seldom do I find myself looking back on a thing or person or an event and legitimately question its authenticity or its genuine awesomeness (for lack of a better word). Was that real?
What I witnessed last Friday (Sept. 21st) at Strange Matter was phenomenal; it was an abstract form of perfection. Standing on a beer soaked floor in a room with the thermostat set to Vietnam, I was awestricken to the point that I – nor the sea of my companions thrust upon me – could react in any way other than to disperse, wipe the sweat from our faces onto sweat soaked t-shirts, plug at our ringing ears and wander in bewilderment. What just happened?
We were shell-shocked, but we knew we liked it. Co-headlining San Francisco performers Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall had exiled us to an urban re-enactment of Apocalypse Now. Get me back in the shit.
I was sitting in a lightly constructed wooden-alcove (what in Richmond equates to a restaurant booth) when just after 8:30 PM, the room was filled with the belching, mucous-coated groan (think John Goodman clearing his throat) that is Winston-Salem’s Burglar Fucker. Their attack on the muffled clanks and chatter of typical bar noise was sudden and unexpected; people began to gather around their lawn-mower jazz incursion (they have a saxophone player) and contemplate. At first glance it looks funny: That’s not them. Who’s playing the joke on us? They have a sax! That can’t be them.
More than likely it was the mix, as the guitar was turned up way too loud during their set and Ralph Pritts’ saxophone was sadly inaudible. Pritts looked Disco Stu cool up there and people were clearly digging their multifarious noise regardless of leveling. I can’t even describe them as an opening act; that would seem reductive to how truly awesome their arrangement was. You may not be able to say their name in front of your mom, but you could spend an hour beaming over how intense and heavy their sound was. If you like the Melvins, then Burglar Fucker might be right up your dimly lit, glass-strewn alley.
Ty Segall is somewhat confounding to me at this point in his career. He is releasing albums that probably shouldn’t be as popular as they are – not because they’re bad – only because the consistency in material is sporadic at best.
Ty’s earlier releases are fuzzy and mildly uncommunicative to a listener who is, perhaps, insistent on audible lyrics. Some of his later efforts (Melted, Lemons) were rowdy, catchy and extremely well executed, while 2011’s Goodbye Bread is mellow enough for an unfamiliar auditor to suggest that it was inspired by hours of eating hash-brownies and listening to Neil Young.
Then there’s his 2nd record of 2012, aptly titled Slaughterhouse, which after two albums of slow-tempo, sock-hop-feel-good jovialness, completely extinguished any expectations we had and immersed us into a tantrum of wails and unpredictability paralleled by the vibes on an ultra-heavy Bad Brains record (Sans Jah).
For a while it was difficult to see him breaking out of a genre that he’s almost solely carrying on his back (garage-rock), but Ty has found success in asymmetry and his popularity is spilling over into sub-genres of the punk/lo-fi sophisticates; there were hipsters, punk rockers, metal-heads, and even pretty girls in pretty black sundresses thrashing about at Strange Matter. If he’s not a musical virtuoso, Ty Segall is an equalizer, uniting everyone with an ear for catchy, punk-riffs under a blanket of Tourette’s laden capriciousness that’s as perfect as it is imperfect.
I’m not sure if it was just the perpetual state of Hell in Strange Matter or the blistering wave of Satan’s breath radiating from Ty’s guitar, but had he played the title track from 2010’s Melted throughout the duration of his set, the overall sentiment would have been one of approval. But nay, Ty had brought several raucous tracks from Slaughterhouse to help everyone shake off their perspiration.
During his performance, the mood of the crowd was both playful and aggressive; a mosh pit engulfed the room when he began to play the title track from Slaughterhouse, which, though just over a minute in length, proved capable of inciting a riot of epic proportions. As everyone danced and kicked and shifted the wooden stage stairs where I had taken refuge, there could be seen smiling and gaiety; the combative cheerfulness was dichotic, but comforting. In terms of a chaotic garage-rock show, the vibe that Ty created was utopian. Even the person in charge of spotlighting stage divers gave up after a few crowd-surfers almost as if to say, “These people are just having fun; they aren’t trying to hurt each other”.
Following the eruption that ensued just as he began playing “Girlfriend,” the anthemic track from 2010’s Melted, Ty never skipped a beat. At last, he politely announced to an anxious and adoring crowd soaked in Black Label beer and sudor that the final song was approaching. However, there were no balking cries or groans of disapproval; everyone cheered. Let’s do it, motherfucker.
Following the prompt, bassist Mikal Cronin dropped the sludgy intro to “Wave Goodbye,” a dark tune that best showcases how it might have sounded if Kurt Cobain teamed up with Ozzy-era Sabbath. Ty banged out a demonically possessed guitar solo that cranked and churned it’s way to the highest peak of an invisible mountain range, making it’s way towards outer space. The crowd shook and writhed and danced and kicked and beamed and kicked some more until Ty and his band abruptly silenced their instruments and began to pack up. That last note seemed to achieve for everyone a type of orgasm – strictly in a musical sense – that sent them again to Grace St. for a cigarette or a breath of fresh air, more satisfied than ever before. Beautiful.
Several minutes later, Strange Matter patrons again filed into the nebulous room, freshened their yet-to-be-spilled drinks and convened around the stage in anticipation as Thee Oh Sees prepared for their set. We’re back – let’s do it again.
It can’t be clearly stated if Thee Oh Sees were commanding in terms of assemblage; it seemed like there were more people in attendance, but it was probably just an incorrect observation brought on from dehydration and a lack of oxygen.
Where Burglar Fucker was shocking and Ty Segall was electrifying and exciting, Thee Oh Sees were absolutely hypnotic. At times they bordered on jam band sentiments; that is, if said jam band took a sheet of acid, watched Alien two times then rehearsed over Stooges records. They were funky and captivating and melodic; the scene was kaleidoscopic .
The abundant playfulness from Ty’s set spilled over into Thee Oh Sees’; nobody was bored or uninvolved. At one point an audience member climbed on the left corner of the stage near where guitarist Petey Dammit was standing, put his hands on his thighs, and began informally bobbing his head for several seconds in the prototypical Oi! fashion. PD regularly glanced at the would-be stage diver and grinned. ‘Look at this crazy fucking kid,’ I imagined him thinking. Without a word the fellow leapt into the crowd and sailed the ocean of elevated arms for what I can only imagine felt like a tingly eternity.
Guitarist/Vocalist John Dwyer was truly magnetizing during their performance, flawlessly switching guitars and effects whilst never failing to mirror the energy and pulse of the crowd. When they began “The Dream,” a funky, cleanly structured song from their 2012 LP Carrion Crawler, Dwyer and PD erupted into a convulsive fit of skull-thrashing conviviality.
Thee Oh Sees made up for the fast paced, roundhouse kick of a show that Ty Segall effortlessly executed with lengthy jam-session versions of songs like “Block of Ice” (from 2008’s The Masters Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In) and instrumental romps like “Chem-Farmer” (from Carrion Crawler).
Thee Oh Sees never stopped, never slowed down, never broke the aura; they were trance inducing and punky and engrossing, both soothing and exhilarating. Opting out of playing a “slow one” after sharing an anecdote about a recent crowd reaction to such a finale, Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees ended their set in a maniacal dual-drumming ball of rage and energy. When the music stopped the audience was released from the spellbinding arrest.
Thee Oh Sees began to withdraw from the stage as everyone put their hands on their heads and muddled their way from the dank and viscid dance floor towards the exit. They had arrived as blocks of ice; now they were melted. It was perfect.
Those who stayed behind closing their tabs and/or visiting the merch tables, paused to thank and applaud Ty – who was working one of the booths – for his performance. Both he and Thee Oh Sees were very gracious, stopping to talk with fans still beaming over their exploits.
I’m not sure which ‘scene’ Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall – who are constantly developing and experimenting with their sound – are affiliated with anymore. Garage? Lofi? Punk? I’m unable to say; the only thing I can clearly state is that there is a definite sense of community in it, and that is truly impressive. This show was elevating and enlightening, and I was taken aback at just how flawless it was. I began to hope – as I’m sure everyone did – that the two west-coasters would hop on the stage and crank out another song or two. I’m sure they could re-capture that whirlwind of raw power and energy, but why try and duplicate perfection? I bought the new single to Ty’s upcoming album, Twins (his 3rd of 2012), and made my way towards the exit. Air.