OH SEES + ZIG ZAGS + LARS FINBERG @ THE TERAGRAM BALLROOM
Photos by Maximilian Ho Words by Madison Desler
The year 1997 gave us many things. The first Harry Potter book was published, the Spice Girls came to America, and San Francisco birthed the earliest incarnation of the Oh Sees — or Thee Oh Sees, OCS, The Ohsees, and whatever else they’ve tagged themselves as. For twenty years, frontman John Dwyer has served as a garage-punk Peter Pan, never aging a day, and never dropping a dud—the band’s latest release Orc, serving as the 19th entry in an insanely prolific career.
With its heavy metal and prog-rock leanings, Orc marks a new phase in the Oh Sees sound, pulling away a bit from the garagey noise-rock of the past. It’s a phase marked with the lean, kickass, four-piece lineup of Dwyer, freak bassist Tim Hellman, drummer Dan Rincon, and the most recent addition of drummer Paul Quattrone. It was this all-out audio assault that hit the stage at Teragram Ballroom last night for a sold-out show.
Blasting through favorites like “Plastic Plant” and the Hellman-powered “Tidal Wave,” the band immediately incited a riot, the center of the crowd turning into a hectic pit of hair, hands, and feet. A mid-40s guy who looked like Mr. Clean went down pretty hard, beers were flying, even a person in a goddamn panda suit went wading by.
Before launching into the spacey “Nite Expo,” a particularly proggy offering off of Orc someone in the crowd shouted out, “You guys are too fucking good!”—an undeniable sentiment one they stretched out on other album cuts. The Motörhead chug of “The Static God” was a highlight, with Dwyer putting on his gremlin-like metal voice—something he leaned into even harder for “Animated Violence,” a track so monstrous, people’s bones are probably still vibrating.
Everyone was waiting for “Toe Cutter-Thumb Buster,” the intro of which they teased out before hitting that delicious, primal riff—driving everyone to further hysteria with the break-neck paced “The Dream.” Perfect dips into the back catalog to remind you of how good this band has always been.
Dwyer is a mad man, head-banging just as severely as the most stoked kid in the pit, and putting the microphone inside of his mouth like a lollipop. He shoves his guitar up into his armpit like a rifle, shooting licks out of the neck toward Hellman and the deranged audience—his tongue making involuntary appearances when he’s riffing the hardest. He was on double-duty, providing fat, fuzzy riffs, then immediately turning around to pound out something on the keyboard. With Hellman, Rincon, and Quattrone so unbelievably locked into each other, he’s free to go absolutely bananas right on top.
Watching two drummers perform right next to each other is something to behold—a brutal ballet of brawn and righteous fills. The synchronization of their movements makes you feel like you’re deep in the pocket with them, making the execution of a particularly harrowing passage a damn-near euphoric experience. Dwyer knows its impact, sandwiching them front and center between his own setup and the very barefoot Hellman—a key ingredient to the band’s preternatural ability to hold the crowd’s attention through the longest of instrumental jams.
Saying little besides “Thank you Los Angeles” and wishing someone in the crowd a happy birthday, Dwyer led the band through a thirteen-song set so heavy, so electric, so perfect in its display of why the Oh Sees are one of the best live bands of all time (regardless of what their name is that week), that when the final note rang out, you knew that was it. No encore necessary.