Thee Oh Sees – El Rey 9-8-12 Thee Oh Sees – El Rey 9-8-12

Words by Aaron, Photos by Ben Irwin.


Without the Clash around to defend their title, Thee Oh Sees may well be the only band that matters. The band is notably prolific, with 11 full-length studio albums, including Putrifiers II, which just came out on 9/12, and two more albums last year alone– on top of live albums, compilations, a bunch of EPs, and some 7 inches thrown in as well. Across all these releases, Thee Oh Sees refuse to limit themselves and evolve and experiment with each album. Hell, they’ve got nine different genres listed on the website of unimpeachable music authority, Wikipedia. On top of all this, they’re one of the best live acts around today. I’ve been lucky enough to see them six times in the last year–because yeah, they’re that good– and they kill it every time. Their show, with the also impressive Sic Alps, at the El Rey on Sunday was no exception.

Dude, you totally should have been there!

Thee Oh Sees are led by wild man and possible mad genius John Dwyer, and rounded out with a core of Petey Dammit on guitar (but sort of playing bass parts, starting a whole lot of debate between my friends and I), Mike Shoun on drums, and the wonderfully complimentary Brigid Dawson on keys, tambourine, and back up vocals. Sometimes there are some other characters around, and they had a very earnest and intense kid playing tambourine at the El Rey show. That’s right, two tambourines! At least when Brigid wasn’t busying herself with her standout keyboard and vocal performance.

Sunday’s nearly sold-out performance was a frenetic musical attack from Thee Oh Sees’s first note of opener “The Dream”. A beehive of a pit opened up immediately with kids crowd surfing and pogoing off each other in a uniquely non-aggressive hipster/indie kid mosh pit kind of way. Except for the cro-mganon in the Ramones shirt who was throwing himself into people like he was at some slam-dancing meathead oi punk show.

The opening song, like many of their songs that evening, is a meandering yet intense art punk psych-garage rave-up with sporadic falsetto caterwauling from Dwyer. The music is propelled forward by a top notch rhythym section. Both Shoun and Dammit are metronomic as they drive the songs forward so perfectly you hardly notice the force and momentum they add to the band. Dwyer’s raucous charisma and antics– writhing and squirming across the stage, occasionally fellating the mic for vocal effects, wildly wrestling and voguing with his guitar, etc.– captivate the audience, but it’s Shoun and Dammit that give the music its sense of frantic, belligerent, urgency.

And speaking of Petey Dammit, what the hell is he playing up there? Most articles say he’s playing guitar. I’m certainly not going to argue with that, but it’s really guitar as bass as he typically plays repetitive, metronomic, low end parts (I even heard someone say it’s a six string bass, but I don’t think they’re right). To that end, the strings look like they’re a heavier gauge than typical. The consensus, and by consensus I mean late-night drunken conversations with a couple of musician friends, is that it’s a baritone guitar. Whatever he’s doing, he’s really fucking good at it.

The crowd was consistently amped up and ready to get weird for the duration of the show, but the crowd favorite, at least judging by the reaction from the opening chords, was “I Was Denied,” off of 2010’s Warm Slime. The band played the song true to the album for the first couple of minutes before devolving into one of the night’s several Sun Ra-on-cocaine-with-guitars free jazz freak-outs, and then went right back to where they left off to finish the song out.

Thee Oh Sees let it all hang out and were ferocious through their entire set, with Dwyer leaving a trail of sweat and spit across the stage. Really– one of my concert going highlights of the year. Go see Thee Oh Sees already. Just go. Go! Please. You deserve it.

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