About a month ago I went to see Oh Sees (formerly Thee Oh Sees) live. I have seen them live once before and I was feeling extremely ready for my second dose of this incredible band. Upon arriving at First Avenue, the familiar semicircle of fans, frenetically packed around the stage, greeted me. We managed to scoot our way pretty close to the stage and waited for the show to begin.
Finally, John Dwyer and the rest of the band emerged from behind the curtain, took their places, and without saying a word, began to play. It was like watching an electric shock ripple through the crowd. From the very first chord struck on their opening number, Nite Expo, the band cast their spell over the audience. Bodies started moving, jolting, bouncing. As the music progressed on, from The Static God (Ah pardon me, do you have a cigarette?), to Tidal Wave, to The Dream, and into the squeaky madness of The Daily Heavy, the crowd transgressed further into disquiet.
One of my favorite things about the physicality of watching this band perform is the way their music is structured to incite a reaction from the crowd. There are little pauses in the songs, somewhere from 20-60 seconds in length, where John fingers a steady bassline and the drummers beat a slackened pulse, that act as a collective breath of relief for the audience. These are the moments where the crowd is rewound, anticipation slowly built back up before the song’s inevitable return to deafening, glorious chaos.
The most compelling agent in the performance was not the lights, not the visuals, but the guiding energetic force of John Dwyer. Watching him perform was knowing you are witnessing someone in their ultimate zone, doing what he was born to do- it is seriously intoxicating to watch. In the middle of the more intense guitar solos, he would frequently fall to the ground, bending over backwards, sweating profusely along with the crowd and attacking the mic from the floor. A couple other habits of his included poking the microphone with his tongue and pretty much shoving the whole microphone in his mouth.
The two drummers, Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon, were centered on the stage, as is typical in Oh Sees’ performances. Twins in their drum-sets and their flow, they stay perfectly in sync throughout the entire show, flailing one drumstick down to the other, controlling the steady pulse in a performance that threatens to implode at any moment.
Oh Sees (formerly Thee Oh Sees) are a new favorite band of mine. What makes them so great to me can be seen and experienced clearly in their 2 hour live show. After both of the times I have seen them play, I was promptly propelled into a manic, feeding frenzy of their sound and the feeling that it gives me, leeching off any art and music that may hold a spark of what I experienced at their concert- it’s just that good.
Since seeing them for the second time, I can’t get enough of their music. I play it repeatedly on my radio show and I often choose it as my getting-ready-soundtrack in the morning. On paper, Oh Sees read like an impressive garage rock band with neo-psychedelic leanings. They have an extensive discography with weirdly wonderful album covers, usually featuring aliens, trolls or other monster-esque creatures, and song titles such as “Face Stabber”, “The Static God”, “Gelatinous Cube”, and “Snickersnee” to name a few of my favorites. They have been steadily releasing albums each year since 2006, always at least one a year, though sometimes two.
Part of what makes the band so impressive to me, as well as what makes it go beyond what you’d read on paper, is how unique their music is. I have so much trouble finding bands that fill the same sound gap as the Oh Sees. Not only is their sound different than so many garage-rock bands, but they offer a seemingly limitless supply of this sound with no pitfalls- no dud albums, no lifeless songs.
The consistent release of albums of Oh Sees’ creative caliber is a feat of gargantuan proportions that makes me want to bow down to the lead vocalist, guitarist and creative mastermind of the band, John Dwyer. Seeing him and the rest of the band perform live feels like a frenzied, repeated poke to my reality- that is, if you’re willing to go there. And “going there” is no small leap- the crowd becomes extremely rowdy and aggressive from the start of the first song. This can make for a stressful environment for anyone who isn’t ready to throw themselves into the pit. But if you’re willing to surrender yourself- both sonically and physically- you couldn’t find a better band to transport you into their feral, sweat-drenched, insanely cathartic universe.