Thee Oh Sees
Live in San Francisco
Castle Face Records, 2016
Review by Kent Manthie
In another of the, so far, spectacular “Live in San Francisco” series of live gigs captured on these CDs which have been coming out over the last, uh…oh, three, maybe four years…(?) I remember writing a review for the Live in San Francisco that Bronze did, some months earlier, this year as well as an older part of the Live in San Francisco set; (must be since I did this review, like, at least a year before I did the Bronze live CD review). It was for the Live in San Francisco CD by White Fence, which was also very good and showed a lot of energy and enthusiasm, from both audience and band.
OK. So, let’s get to this one, the Thee Oh Sees live album, from, of course, SF (which, having lived in SF for almost five years, as well as catch quite a few great live shows there -only one time did I have to go outside of SF for a concert I wanted to see: Beck, in, like ’97 or so – it was the tour for the Odelay CD. Anyway, that show was at the Paramount, in Oakland.
As for this album, Thee Oh Sees recorded material from three nights’ worth of shows at The Chapel, in The City. DAMN, man…these guys are just off the hook! I’m about halfway through the album right now and, so far, everything I’ve heard has been delightful. The guitar is really good, here and their rhythm section: the bass and the drums, really are both out there, to be heard and felt; not just a vague time keeper in the background (at least the bass can sometimes be that way). Right now, “Man in a Suitcase” (no, not The Police song), has just finished and now, they’re going into this blistering, dynamo, “Toe Cutter Thumb Buster”. The more I listen to this album, the more I can hear just how good a guitar player John Dwyer is. Dwyer has dual roles, actually. Not only is he a phenomenal guitarist and one of the strong links which all make up the chain that are Thee Oh Sees. “Sticky Hulks” is a song that vacillates between being a kind of rock and roll dirge and a frenetic, guitar sandblasting away the tears. At seven and a half minutes, it’s the second-longest song on Live in San Francisco. The longest is the finale, “Contraption”, which, of course, is just dizzying with Dwyer’s incredible guitar as well as a tightly-knit band, altogether. Just one question: why do they feel the need to bleep out supposed words like “fuck” or “shit”, etc? This isn’t commercial TV or radio. Oh well, that’s a rather minor point compared to what sounds, underneath the psychedelic wash is some trippy surf-rock, but with distortion and in a bit of a Rockabilly pose. But there are a few more parts and, when Thee Oh Sees put them all together in just the right recipe, something mind-blowing is the result! Also, the live setting of Thee Oh Sees three shows at The Chapel give the neophyte T.O.S. listener a taste of what their live shows sound like.
As I mentioned, previously, that the longest tune on Live in San Francisco is the last song on the album, “Contraption”, five seconds short of 16 minutes. This is the perfect vehicle for which Dwyer to really show off his guitar chops. While the drums are interweaving their own rhythms which nevertheless, fit in, so you have to turn the bass amp, so, even though he’s noodling a bit, here and there he’s got his fingers (literally) on the pulse of the beat, via the bass!
If you want a quick summation of what Thee Oh Sees sound like, or, maybe, come across as, think of The Stooges’ raw, guitar-heavy, bombastic proto-punk, mixed with the Psychobilly fur-and-leather good times of The Cramps and that whole Southwestern “Whammy” mystique that [well – think of it: if you made a movie out in the AZ desert, you could do worse than The Cramps].
So far, this year, I have heard quite a few new releases that came from Castle Face Records, and now I’m at the point that whenever I get a new album to review, it’s always nice to find out it happens to be on Castle Face. Not everything I get, of course, is on Castle Face Records, nor does everything I review even sound like a lot of the bands on that label, but, well, I have a very wide range of musical tastes, and, on top of that, I can tell the difference between a band that puts a lot of talent and hard work into their work as opposed to some schlubs who’re just in it for the “chicks and the money”. Thee Oh Sees are far from being like that. They seem to have a knack for fiery, sometimes intense, yet complex tones, time signatures and maybe some secrets to their sound by way of their own special formula for guitar tuning. Whatever it is that makes Thee Oh Sees the special band they are, at least one of the most important, is their fertile imagination and (at least one hopes) all that as-yet-unwritten-down music to come. Can’t wait to hear what comes next! Oh, and go check out Castle Face Records’ website – here’s a link that’ll take you right to their Thee Oh Sees page. You can always go back and browse for other stuff, as well – http://www.castlefacerecords.com/collections/thee-oh-sees – Happy Listenin’ -KM