Before getting into this evening’s special performance by San Francisco’s Oh Sees, a few announcements – firstly, whilst we recognise that the band are clearly not folk-oriented in the slightest, their psychedelic origins have resonated, and we like it! Secondly, the perspective of this evening’s performance was taken from the introverts corner at the back of the hall rather than from within the tumultuous maelstrom that ebbed and flowed, front of centre. This may challenge people’s perspective if you were there and for that I apologise.
The opening of the show arrives without warning. Most of the band including founding member John Dwyer have been sound-checking for several minutes and he suddenly decides now’s a fine time to get going, abruptly launching into the psychedelic garage rocker ‘Plastic Plant’. The track ebbs and flows as the skittish intro morphs into more composed vocal moments before the combustible power returns. As it reaches its first peak the frenetic energy instantly transmits to the sold-out Manchester audience. Pints fly, crowd surfers hang ten and one young fan is hauled from the rail in tears. The frontal assault is disciplined though, allowing the pealing double drum design to shake our senses in sophisticated yet deep and cacophonous ways.
The raucous pace continues with the jittery ‘Nite Expo’ which ups the keys and bass before Dwyer adds creeping vocals and amidst the crushing power chords which jar boldly against the cool California textures. This entertaining divergence continues with ‘Tidal Wave’ which maintains a cool, hip vibe and ties it to contemporary White Stripes-era lo-fi punk. There’s an unpredictability amidst the band’s gait and ‘Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster’ initially appears to have altered the wild pace of the show, only for a gutteral whoop from Dwyer to signal the next cavalcade of sinewy psychedelia.
The evening challenges conventions making the psyche of the band difficult to clearly identify. The vast procession of records produced under various adaptations of Oh Sees monickers suggests that the character is constantly in a state of flux. The impact of this is the multifarious crowd in attendance and air guitarists mix with old punks and new hipsters. It’s an interesting mix, much like the setlist.
It’s curious that we have to wait until the last half of the evening to hear anything from the band’s latest album when the more restrained ‘Sentient Oona’ enters the fray. The track’s percussive elements provide thrilling moments and it perhaps identifies the album’s more synth-heavy approach, but the mix is no less compelling. The prog-style synths continue to swirl on ‘Sticky Hulks’ before there’s a return to the swampy brilliance of ‘The Dream’ and six quid pints are hurled once again in uncontrolled enthusiasm.
Whatever genre this may be is anyone’s guess. Surf Rock, Garage Rock, Experimental Rock, Post Punk, Psych Rock, Alternative Rock, Punk Rock… but when the lean, hip vibe of encore closer ‘C’ arrives it becomes clear that we’re not here to follow a genre. It’s the inventive industriousness and challenge to convention that is the real appeal, whatever moniker they might perform under.
Words & Images by Iain Fox