Oh Sees - Thalia Hall, Chicago - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Oh Sees - Thalia Hall, Chicago

by Texacaliago Rating: Release Date:

Selling-out a local venue on the final night of Riot-Fest in Chicago would be an impressive feat for most any band.  But even a once a year festival that drew at least 50,000+ people Sunday a few miles away still couldn’t prevent one of the most emphatic live acts on the planet from completely selling out Thalia Hall Sunday evening.

That fact is all the more extraordinary considering you’re never going to hear the band in question on the radio, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any trace of activity from them on social media (or even on their own spottily updated website for that matter).  I’m talking of course about the Oh Sees (they dropped the “Thee” recently), a band who has built a sizable cult following primarily through the reputation of their notoriously unhinged live shows.  They also happen to be a ridiculously prolific bunch (for better or worse), haven released an album (or two) a year every year for the past decade or so.

And while the Oh Sees don’t always knock it out of the park on record (as side 2 of their latest album Orc unfortunately demonstrates) they can absolutely always be counted on to deliver the goods in a live setting.

And not only was their performance Sunday night a good example of that, it was downright legendary in its blistering level of intensity.  Mind you, this is a band who has routinely decimated audiences around the world on a consistent basis for quite some time now, so I’m not sure there was anything particularly unique about the sheer level of awesomeness on display Sunday night.  All I can tell you is, for a band with such a stout live reputation, they somehow managed to surpass my already soaring expectations that evening.  In fact, they shattered them really.

Granted, being that I’m a relative newcomer to Oh Sees, I had only seen them one other time before.  It was last November shortly after the presidential election, and although they certainly brought the house down that night, there was a palpable sense of anxiety and disillusionment in the air that may have slightly taken something away from the show (or at least my ability to thoroughly enjoy it).  And although things are still quite far from hunky dory these days, there was no proverbial lid weighing down their performance Sunday night.  You could feel it in the air as the band setup the stage DIY-style.  Whenever Dwyer made an appearance, the crowd roared as he was tuning his guitar, etc.  Everybody was definitely amped up and ready to go, so as soon as they launched into “Plastic Plant” to kick off their set, it was game on!

The crowd (including your humble narrator of course) instantly erupted into a sea of slam-dancing euphoria, jumping around, crowd-surfing, everything you would expect from a classically raucous Oh Sees show.  I was particularly struck at just how incredibly loud and tight they were this time around.  The last time I saw them they only had one drummer, but Sunday night we were treated to a two drummer setup, which definitely seemed to add an extra punch to their attack.  The band only seemed to get heavier and more intense has they progressed through their setlist, particularly with the back-to-back 1-2 punch of “Withered Hand” followed by the standout track from their new album: “Animated Violence”.   These tunes were positively ferocious live, and I thought they were literally going to rip the skin right off my fucking face with their blistering level of intensity.  Really, the same could be said about any one of the songs from their setlist.  John Dwyer and company were not playing around that night, and it was an incredibly awesome thing to behold.

Even when the Oh Sees finally gave the crowd a chance to catch our collective breaths mid-way through their set with a lengthy rendition of “Sticky Hulks”, they immediately tore into “I Come From the Mountain” directly after it, which, not to overuse the term “blistering”, but, I mean, holy shit! Completely fucking insane, as was their ridiculously awesome extended version of “Contraption/Soul Desert” to close out the show, which must have stretched close to or passed the 20 minute mark.  Most of the song was pure psychedelic/sonic brilliance, as by the time Dwyer and company brought it all back home with the main riff you had almost completely forgotten what song you were listening to in the first place! 

That aforementioned psychedelic dynamic is an important part of the Oh Sees’ sound, and what makes them more than just another ridiculously good garage-punk band.  It adds an extra layer to their repertoire, a somewhat warped/maniacal layer that complements their patented scorching assault quite nicely.  And, about that scorching assault, it may be a novel ideal for yours truly, but it’s very cool to witness such an incredibly powerful and heavy sound without it originating from a place of anger, or without it coming off as blatantly hostile. There are plenty of heavy bands out there that can rain down a vicious rage storm on you, but what makes the Oh Sees special is their ability to match or surpass that level of intensity without rage really being a part of the equation.  That just makes the show even more fun to completely lose your fucking mind to, and as evidenced by the awesomeness that went down Sunday night at Thalia Hall, the Oh Sees pull off that incredibly impressive trick better than anybody.  Simply put: they came, they saw, they conquered.  With all due respect to Jawbreaker, the masses at Riot Fest had no idea what they were missing.

Oh Sees: A+

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