Thee Oh Sees at the Turf Club, 9/30/12
with Ty Segall and Trin Tran
Turf Club, St. Paul
September 30, 2012
Right from the time Thee Oh Sees took to the stage on Sunday night, it felt like anarchy in the Turf Club. The crowd -- or at least the front third of the room--exploded into a flurry of thrashing legs and flying elbows. Sweaty bodies bounced and careened off one another, slipping on the pool of spilled beer in the middle of the room, each trying to match the intensity of the music from John Dwyer and his band.
In fact, everyone was so busy hitting each other that no one noticed the guy who jumped up onstage toward the end of the set. Better call a doctor. Better call a doctor, Dwyer chanted over a furious rhythm. On the far side of the stage the interloper appeared, barely in the periphery for most. He hesitated only briefly, then sprung himself into the crowd.
It was, to be diplomatic, a rather bad idea.
Slideshow: Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall at Turf Club
Ty Segall and White Fence at the 7th St. Entry, 5/08/12
Naturally, no one even tried to catch the guy. Instead, he crashed straight into some poor girl, who was dancing by herself and completely blindsided. They both tumbled to the floor, and it took the girl a good minute to get back up -- first sprawled out on her back, then trying to raise herself up on her hands and knees, a crowd by then gathering to see if she was okay. Finally, she walked away, cursing to herself and clutching her broken glasses, the now-bashful stage diver following behind.
All the while, the music never slowed down, but apparently it wasn't for a lack of Dwyer noticing what had happened. "That was our last song," he said afterward. Then, wiping the sweat off his brow, he added wryly, "I hope the ending didn't kill that girl..."
Presumably Dwyer--a tattooed San Francisco native who looks like a slightly deranged surfer--is used to seeing such things at his own concerts. The music that Thee Oh Sees plays is just plain lacerating, never-ending garage rock riffs that get stretched out for ten minutes at a time. (They only played a half-dozen songs in 60 minutes.) But they're also infectiously danceable, which, as you've likely already guessed, can perhaps make for a lethal combination.
It was almost impossible to pick out songs, unless you knew the band's catalogue well enough or, you know, were standing still and paying close attention. The barbed-wire "Contraption/Soul Desert" kicked things off, with Dwyer standing his electric 12-string on end for a while as he sang, creating a whole extra wall of feedback in the process. "I Was Denied" followed that up, with live staple "Enemy Destruct" was thrown in there too, but from there it was anyone's guess about the titles.
And really, it hardly mattered. Above all else, a Thee Oh Sees concert is a test of stamina, the Kraut-rock-like monotony an ongoing provocation to the audience. One song might put more emphasis on the guitar, another on the bass, yet another on Bridgit Dawson's keys, but the point was that they just kept going. And going. And going--a point that was driven home when the drummer, locked into a metronomic groove all night, let loose between songs with a drum solo. It was explosive enough that it underlined just how much he'd been restraining himself.
Of course, while Thee Oh Sees were technically the headliners Sunday, it was in reality all but a double-feature that also showcased fellow Bay-dweller Ty Segall and his band. Segall was in town back in the spring for a similarly raucous show at the 7th St. Entry, but at the Turf Club he put on a shorter, but more focused, set that proved a perfect warm-up for Dwyer and Co.
Yet what might have been most interesting about Segall's performance, in the context of the evening, was the contrast he helped set up with Dwyer. Yes, both are garage rockers, in the simplest, most pejorative sense, and both are prolific songwriters, as well. But if Thee Oh Sees sound like Can on amphetamines, then Segall might be the psychedelic little brother to Minor Threat. He also, of the two leading men, is the more charismatic: Dwyer, his guitar held up close beneath his chin, exudes an almost hyper-masculinity (the guy talks like he's on amphetamines). Segall, on the other hand, gives off an air of nonchalance, standing slouch-shouldered with his hair in his eyes. The guy knows how to write a hook, too--something that may be too much of a luxury in Dwyer's world.
But, appropriately, it was Dwyer who had the last laugh. "This is the last show we're playing with Ty Segall," he announced, poking fun at Segall having awkwardly professed being "excited" that this was the last night of the tour. With only a faint hint of a smile, Dwyer added, "Ever! Thank god."
Critics Bias: I'd seen Ty Segall before, but no Thee Oh Sees. It was as crazy as you could expect.
The Crowd: Only one bro took his shirt off, as far as I could tell.
Overheard in the Crowd: Re: Ty Segall: "This is what I always wished Jack White would turn into."
Random Notebook Dump: Trin Tran was the first opener, basically a guy with a guitar and a drum machine. Especially in lieu of what came after, it had limited appeal, but probably worked well enough to get the night started.