Perhaps we should have known better.
The Chapel billed OCS’s two consecutive nights at as a “mellow, quiet set.” Signs hung around the venue requested audience members refrain from talking during the performance. Bartenders had been instructed not to make anything that required a shaker. (“Uh, can you stir it?” one patron asked when his order was politely refused.)
And, in some ways, the two nights were indeed quiet and intimate performances. But OCS – pronounced O-C-S – is no less of a John Dwyer project than Oh Sees or Thee Oh Sees or any other variation on the name he’s employed over his career. And John Dwyer shows are rarely, if ever, mellow and quiet. Case in point: The man has presided over more mosh pits in his lifetime than probably anyone else in punk.
We should have seen it coming. Sure, the two OCS sets were quiet and mellow, but they were “quiet” and “mellow” in the way that Dwyer interprets those words. Which is to say that he’s the only performer on the planet who can pull off ending two consecutive “quiet” and “mellow” sets with enough noise and power to start a proper mosh pit.
More on loose definitions later. Playing the first of two support slots was Shannon Lay, the guitarist of L.A. punk band Feels. Accompanied only by a violinist and her own guitar, Lay’s songs were tender and her demeanor appreciative. She was genuinely honored to be there, and said as much. Regardless, it showed: Having spent the first night settling in, her second set was tighter, far more assured and better attended than her first.
Ty Segall, slated in main support, employed a different strategy. Freed from the constraints of a recently released record or any particular project, Segall let himself off his own leash. Solo and basically acoustic, he dipped in and out of his sizeable discography. He opened his first set with “Time”, a song he co-wrote with White Fence’s Tim Presley for their 2012 collaborative album Hair. He dove headfirst into jagged covers of John Lennon’s “Isolation” and Spinal Tap’s “Gimme Some Money”. He shined during a wildly relevant and stripped-back rendition of The Dils’ “Class War.” (#GOPTaxScam, anyone?) The audience responded with all the enthusiasm Segall’s presence usually demands, and at the close of “Gimme Some Money,” one such audience member tossed a handful of change onto the stage.
“It finally worked!” Segall yelled. “Megabus, here I come!”
Left alone, Segall is a remarkably funny performer and an engaging presence. He played with more outright conviction on the second night, barreling through “Comfortable Home” from 2011’s Goodbye Bread and “Squealer” from last year’s Emotional Mugger. Throughout both sets, Segall seemed to have no intention of winning over new fans – and rightly so. This was an audience of the already converted; Segall did well to offer a different perspectives of beloved cuts rather than vie for an indulgent showcase of himself. The results were short, sweet, and rewarding.
Equally rewarding were OCS’s two sets. Together with longtime collaborator Brigid Dawson and a three-piece string section, Dwyer and company worked their way through the freak folk of this autumn’s Memory of a Cut Off Head. For all the intimacy and serenity of Dawson’s pitch-perfect harmonies and the gorgeous string arrangements, the mood never quite dipped into the self-serious. Dwyer, voluntarily positioned to the right of his drummer rather than at the center, cracked dirty jokes and fired off the occasional tour story. It was a fabulous time.
The band closed both nights with a glorious, twenty-minute-long jam of “Block of Ice” from 2008’s The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In. In Dwyer and Dawson’s maddeningly talented hands, the track transformed into a sprawling and kaleidoscopic finale, indulging the punks who had been held at bay by the gentler freak folk set. It was nearly cathartic: Dwyer, for all his freak folk genius, is a garage punk to the end. The elevated finale proved as much — twice in a row.
But Dwyer is also a master of his craft and now an elder statesmen of California rock. At 30, Segall seems to be his natural successor, a celebrated guitar hero producing some of his most exciting material to date. Shannon Lay, a newcomer in relation to Segall and Dwyer with a musical identity still in flux, is the face of the new guard. In putting together this bill, OCS also compiled a generational study of California rock.
And the state of such union, if you will, seems rather promising.