Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wild Abandon

When Sussex Sedition was a physical fanzine written by people other than just me, we had only one editorial policy: all pieces were to be celebratory; there was enough of the negative written word in the world, we decided, and we strived to only be positive. Continuing on my own with this blog, that has been difficult when it comes to politics but in the case of music it has been easier to toe the line: on the rare occasion I have been to a bad gig, I have simply not reviewed it, despite the still-burning desire to share my thoughts on a Jenny Hval performance in Brighton a couple of years ago. That said, I went to Thee Oh Sees gig at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill last night not expecting to write a review.

I have struggled for the past year to share the enthusiasm of friends, music writers and 6 Music presenters to understand the band’s appeal. I am as one with Marc Riley on most things but when I hear Thee Oh Sees on his radio show it sounds as though it is 1973 all over again – like punk never happened. I am immediately transported back to a time when my sister’s boyfriend lived at our house and would blast out his awful King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator LPs. “You have to see Thee Oh Sees live to fully appreciate them” was the standard response to my complaints and so, when the band’s quickly sold-out Brighton show was transferred to my favourite local venue, I and a couple of other sceptics snapped up some tickets. In truth, I went to bury Thee Oh Sees, not to praise them.

However, even before the Californian band began their set last night, I knew that I was going to have to eat my words. With two drummers front and centre of the stage flanked by leader John Dwyer on guitar and vocals and Tim Hellman on bass, I could feel my sternum weakening when they were only going through their last minute sound level checks. When they began proper, it was an all-out punk rock assault; the energy was ferocious and there was an atmosphere of wild abandon that prompted crowd surfing, the like of which I have never seen before at the De La Warr.

With Dan Rincon and !!!’s Paul Quattrone the dual drummers, this was the line-up that made 2016’s two albums, the band’s 17th and 18th in a 20-year existence, A Weird Exits and An Odd Entrances. What was surprising last night was there was barely a hint of the heavy prog overtones I had heard in their recorded output; instead, it was like Nuggets played by Johnny Moped with a hint of Warsaw and late Stone Roses thrown in. Dwyer used his strapped-high see-through guitar like a machine gun and, in a red and black striped jumper and cut-down jeans, looked like he was menacing the rest of the band to keep up with him.

It was a brilliant no-nonsense performance although, with little between-songs interaction, I have no idea what tracks they played; but as the 75-minutes without encore came to a close, my sympathy was with the drummers who were just showing the faintest signs of fatiguing at the merciless pace. Leaving the venue as converts, we hit the fresh air outside only to realise that the atmosphere and pace had also driven on our drinking at a similarly frenetic tempo.

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