Oh Sees With Le Shok, POW!, Ice Balloons At Zebulon, Tuesday June 12th 2018
Thee Oh Sees – and I should simply call them Oh Sees by now – are my mood booster, a radical cure for depressive tendencies, and I should not let a few months pass without my Oh Sees fix. When I heard they were playing in the neighborhood, at the intimate venue Zebulon, I knew I needed to go. Many people forgot to buy a ticket on time and were begging for tickets a few days before the show, which is always a good sign for good times.
And good times we all had, crazy times I should say, with a rowdy crowd as expected, and me ending the show crouched on stage holding one of the drumset, in the most uncomfortable position ever, pushed by repetitive waves of fans moving at each one of John Dwyer’s guitar assault. I knew a Oh Sees show would not be the easiest one to survive front row and a tricky one to shoot, but the adrenaline level was intense, and what I have lost in hearing (despite my ear plugs) I gained it in sanity.
But the evening was a long one, 4 bands altogether played during the night, which was in fact a benefit to support the family of a friend, after his recent death.
Le Shok was a surprised guest, and they opened the night with an aggressive dissonance. The electropunk band from Long Beach, made up of members of various punk bands from the ‘90s and ‘00s, did a short set with panache and matching white ties, a very weird detail for such punks. Singer Hot Rod Todd (it was his name?) was aggressively spitting in his mic, lyrics of songs such as ‘Killed by Fuck’, ‘We are Electrocution’, ‘Electric Digits’… ‘Brett Cutts Himself’…. while the band had a chaotic style and puzzling chord progressions. There was a real rawness in their delivery combined with the appropriate sloppy, theatrical (but funny) attitude. However, they had great songs and looked like authentic warriors of a time when punk truly meant something.
POW! delivered another interesting set, and if the surprise effect wasn’t as intense as it was the first time I saw them (they have opened for Frankie and the Witch Fingers, Escape-ism, The Dandy Warhols, and the Voidz, and I probably saw them a few more times…) the intensity of the music was intact. How can you not get amused and fascinated by Byron Blum’s preacher rants and sizzling guitar assaults over Melissa Blue’s fronting keyboards? Their one-of-the-kind music got POW! a spot on Castle Face Records, John Dwyer’s label, and it is not something difficult to understand when they launch another one of their unexpected outbursts of energy bringing their infectious melodies to the next level of euphoria. There’s something crazy and futuristic about them, human machines in search of a fuzzy hi-tech experimentation, driven by a punk energy and a glowing mystic.
Ice Balloons was a surprise at so many levels: first there was TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone on one side of the stage, sending laser beam-like noises with his modest electronic equipment, then the frontman and singer came with a DIY fly mask! He was moving close to the edge of the stage often leaning above the crowd with his repetitive insect dance… I get it this was the theme of the show, with songs titles such as ‘Dragonfly’, Dead Fly’, ‘Fly on the Beach’… and the results was a bit like a sci-fi movie, an electro punk band fronted by a giant fly, giving us plenty of sonic variations during the set, from mad accelerations to complete noise experimentations. Even though we never saw his face during the entire set, the fly was Samian’s Sean Kennerly who told us he got this strange vision for a band during a dream, or a close-to hallucinatory state of consciousness. Completed by other members of bands such as drummer Sean Powell (Fuckemos, Surfbort) and bassist Dan Scinta (Wild Yaks), their performance may have been fly-repellant or fly-attractant, I can’t decide but the entire set had this strong vibe of chaos mixed with an intense claustrophobia, which may have either come from the mask that the frontfly was wearing or from the crowd, which was becoming more and more dense just before Oh Sees’ set.
If the crowd had stayed relatively calm during these 3 bands, Oh Sees brought the energy to another level of insanity with their two drumsets so close to us for almost 2 hours, that staying front row was a wish for tinnitus. If the band celebrated its 20 years last year, if the lineup has changed over the years, the driving force behind Oh Sees will always be John Dwyer, now combined with these two unstoppable drumming machines, Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone, a totally in-synch rhythm section completed by Tim Hellman on bass. Their intense drumming sessions often unleashed a good 20-minute sweat party of propulsive psychedelic grooves where kids’ bodies were flying in space losing direction and sense of time. The music metamorphosed itself many times, with multi accelerations of fuzz guitars or laser-like lines floating above the organized chaos, while Dwyer’s falsetto sounded like a air balloon bouncing back on each riff. Meanwhile people became more and more crazy during ‘The Dream’, and ‘Tidal Wave’, forcing me to kneel down on the small stage, my head stuck between a cymbal and a drum, but comfort was not my first priority at this moment.
(Thee) Oh Sees may be from San Francisco, but John Dwyer introduced the band with a ‘we live here’, and I took it like a LA-pride thing, while the loveable frontman was holding his transparent guitar very high as he always does, moving it like a weapon or a chief conductor’s stick, while Rincon and Quattrone were following each one of his moves from the corner of their eyes.
It was an intense sonic steamroller, crushing everything on its way to the psychedelic stratosphere, and when they were slowing down, the drowsy vibe was complemented by foggy organ tones (also played by Dwyer) which seemed to stretch space and other dimensions. All-night long (the show was over around 1 am, or was it 1:30 am already?) Dwyer and his band showed an amazing stamina during these drum jams which sounded like an hypnotic psilocybin-fueled marathon,… they gave us the impression they would never stop when they were launching one of their amazing long-distance numbers, they could have played all night, re-sculpting this groove and this tempo with the same ferocity and determination for minutes,… even for hours. And by pushing the sound barrier and certainly the time barrier, they sent everyone free.