Levitation Review: Oh Sees

Enthralling, pit-churning, full-frontal riff and beat assault

Since launching (Thee) Oh Sees in 1997 as a receptacle for his experimental recordings, Bay Area rock maverick John Dwyer has churned out 20 studio albums and launched his own record label, all amid obsessive, extensive touring. What’s not to love?

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Sunday night’s sold-out Barracuda set, sandwiched between the California quartet’s two other headlining Levitation performances – a blazing show Saturday at the same venue and this evening’s encore at Hotel Vegas – stood as testament to Dwyer’s work-fueled wizardry, which now touches down in the Texas capitol annually. Like breakfast tacos, cheap beer, and commiserating seasonal allergies, Oh Sees’ explosive fuzz synthesis remains a punk hootenanny of which Austin doesn’t tire.

Starting before a pushed up 11:40pm set time on the outside stage, the band launched an immediate frenzy with “The Static God.” The 43-year-old frontman’s backing included Tim Hellman on bass next to Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone center stage as a monolithic double-drummer machine. The latter, formerly of !!! (Chk Chk Chk), represented the latest change to the group’s lineup.

Despite numerous adjustments and name changes over the years, for 90-minutes of an enthralling, pit-churning, full-frontal riff and beat assault at Barracuda, band configurations didn’t much matter. Dwyer’s guitar, held high on his chest, his cartoonish drool, and sweat-flapping exhilaration held constant. Energy from either side of the low-slung stage didn’t waver for an instant.

While Oh Sees could’ve probably played the same song 15 times to similar effect, a super-saturated set-list pulled audience-gripping garage rock and ferocious psychedelia from his comprehensive catalog. Selections off last year’s Orc, the group’s 19th studio album, fit the bill, infused with Floating Coffin-era hitters “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” and “I Come from the Mountain.” A final, sped-up annihilation of 2011 track “Contraption/Soul Desert” spaced out into one of the show’s multiple antsy, drum-fueled interludes before a face-melting, unbridled end.

Dwyer’s latest work, Memory of a Cut Off Head, didn’t make the cut. Its softer, reflective chamber pop demonstrates Dwyer’s knack for prolific sonic compartmentalization, included through side bands Coachwhips and Damaged Bug, which has kept his vehicles revving for 20 years. By distilling punk pleasure down to a hypnotic, chaotic live dosage, Oh Sees has grown addictive enough for three successive nights in Austin.

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Levitation 2018, Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, John Dwyer, Tim Hellman, Dan Rincon, Paul Quattrone, !!!, Coachwhips, Damaged Bug

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