Thee Oh Sees - Live in San Francisco - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Thee Oh Sees - Live in San Francisco

by Zach Johnson Rating:7 Release Date:2016-07-01

More often than not, live albums can tend to be a slightly unsatisfying retread of a listening experience.  Most of the time, you’ve already heard all of these songs executed more acutely on the band’s studio albums, and while hearing a band on a live recording usually offers up occasionally interesting deviations from their studio versions, it’s never really a fully satisfying substitute for actually being there.

That said, if there were one band in which a live recording is definitely warranted, it’s Thee Oh Sees.  This is primarily because John Dwyer and company have built a reputation over the years for their incredibly manic live shows.  While the band definitely has some good albums under their belt, Thee Oh Sees live experience typically far surpasses the experience of listening to their studio albums.  The caveat to that is: if you’re actually at the concert, in the moment itself.

In other words, as alluded to above, listening to a recording of Thee Oh Sees live doesn’t quite do their live show justice.  It sounds like a slightly more intense/rawer version of listening to one of their many high-quality albums:  it sounds good, often exhilarating, occasionally spacy/trippy, but mostly visceral.   Whereas if you are actually witnessing them live in the flesh, caught up in the chaos and adrenaline-fueled intensity of the show itself, it takes the experience to an entirely new level.

But unless you have a particularly vivid (and potentially unhealthy) imagination, the best substitute you’re going to get for actually being there is hearing them tear it up live in their hometown of San Francisco.  The band comes out blazing with the blinding intensity of “I Come from the Mountain”, which is quickly followed up by perhaps their best composition, the face-melting “The Dream”.  Things don’t let up from there as the band continues to assail the lucky crowd with “Tunnel Time” and “Tidal Wave”, before finally taking the foot off the accelerator slightly with “Web” and “Man in a Suitcase”.  Things gradually get more dingy/spacey as the show progresses, graciously allowing the crowd to actually take a breath, but Thee Oh Sees do a good job of keeping the audience on their toes throughout.  They rarely dabble in the more subdued psychedelic aspects of their sound too long before quickly launching back into the blistering sonic assault that is the true essence of their live experience.

They do debut a new song here “Gelatinous Cube” which is a ripping little jam that is somewhat similar to “I Come From the Mountain” in sound and spirit.  But the band arguably saves the best for last with an almost 16 minute version of the fantastic “Contraption”.  Aside from maybe “The Dream” you get perhaps the best encapsulation of Thee Oh Sees sound on “Contraption”.  It’s the best of both worlds really, as the song features perhaps the most infectiously exhilarating blast of sonic intensity the band has ever cooked up, but the live version expands that wall of sound significantly into a space-rock behemoth of an experience. 

It’s a fitting way to end Thee Oh Sees live show in their hometown, and while nothing can quite substitute for actually being there, maybe if you close your eyes, click your heels three times, and blast this record at an extremely high volume, you might just get really really close.

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