In a decade and a half, with varying line-ups and slightly differing band names (Thee Oh Sees, The Oh Sees, OCS, Oh Sees), John Dwyer has released 20 studio albums that have helped steadily lift him to a status as possibly the biggest cult star in psych-rock’s underground world. Despite this rate of output, Dwyer never seems to repeat himself, stitching together garage, punk, psych, prog, folk, and pop as well as experimenting with samplers, effects and whatever electronic toys he feels like plugging into his smorgasbord of sound.
In recent years, (Thee) Oh Sees has been rebuilt around bassist Tim Hellman and a double-drummer tandem (now made up of Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone). But even though the last few albums have started to incorporate more Afrobeat, cosmic jazz, and proggy synth soundtrack influences, Dwyer seemingly recognizes that they still need to include a fair share of warp-speed rock-outs to keep his circle-pit faithful satisfied. Tonight’s gig at Le National sometimes feels like a game of tug-of-war between the Oh Sees’ desire to satisfy their audience and their desire to satisfy themselves.
Their approach to live music takes a lot from jam bands but this is no blissed-out head-nodding experience. From the moment they begin, there’s a circle pit and a succession of crowd surfers being hoisted over the crowd.
Oh Sees have long revelled in the tension between the band’s aggression and Dwyer’s quirky, mischievous vocal style. Dressed in cut-off shorts and a t-shirt most people would have thrown out a long time ago, the ringleader wields a clear acrylic guitar and looks like a gutter-punk who decided to just keep the aesthetic well into his 40s. It works well for him too.
Dwyer has said he’s recently been writing more from improvisation and that approach carries into the band’s live show. However, there are points where things get a little too self-indulgent. Oh Sees have always maintained an ability to turn a track into an aggressively groovy jam, but a couple of times tonight it becomes monotonous and I see people giving friends bemused looks, checking their phone or taking the opportunity to visit the bar. Strip away the excessive noodling and there would be time for a few more songs, without the lulls in the performance. But those lulls do have the effect of making the high points even more breathtaking.
Their dual drummers are nothing to sniff at, either. They’re put front-and-center rather than set back like almost every other band you’ve seen. It’s a wise move too considering how exciting it is to watch them work in unison. It’s almost hypnotic how in sync they are, despite the ferocity they maintain throughout. Oh Sees’ heaviness is not in the volume and distortion, but rather in the force with which hands are hitting instruments.
“Last chance. Dig in!” says Dwyer by way of introduction to an extended rendition of Contraption/Soul Desert that closes the show. Like many of the bands in their sphere, listening to an Oh Sees album is not the right way to experience them: you need to see them live. And tonight’s crowd go home utterly satisfied.
Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster
Review & photos – Steve GerrardShare this :