Thee Oh Sees continue their global assault, locally

Thee-Oh-SeesPhotos by Sam Heller

I got nothing on Rice-a-Roni, but those folks never experienced the real San Francisco treat, Thee Oh Sees. I could come up with a plethora of San Francisco analogies to demonstrate the local love and adoration for John Dwyer, but I’ll spare you. This January run consisted of 2 sold out weekend nights at the ever-popular Independent, and as one would imagine it was a scene not to be missed.


The first night featured Sic Alps on the opening duties, a slot they are likely familiar with as the local troupe. The room filled quickly for Mike Donovan’s version of West Coast psychedelia, featuring mainly material from their latest self-titled release. With personnel changes marring this band for the past couple of years, it was nice to see what appears to be a permanent cast of characters playing songs such as “Do You Want to Give $$?” – which was a highlight of the set. Saturday’s show featured a spirited set from up-and-coming locals The Mallard, who were obviously inspired by the headliners.

With Minor Threat playing as the house music, the band hastily set up their stripped down stage setup and blasted off with little hesitance.


Brigid Dawson, who is unfortunately pushed to the back of the stage, led with a little intro on the keys before the full force of the fury was unleashed on the crowd. Not surprisingly, the first few rows simultaneously broke into a hybrid pogo-mosh pit, showing that even the 21+ sect still know how to rock. “Contraption/Soul Desert” was particularly strong, with Dwyer’s madman assault on his now famous clear SG guitar. Petey Damnit, the group bass player, can strum out bass lines for miles, however he does this on a six-string guitar rather than a bass, further adding to the unique nature of this band.

Thee Oh Sees, formerly OCS and occasionally Orinoka Crash Suite, have morphed considerably over their decade long existence. Once Dwyer hung up the influentially dominant band the Coachwhips, he needed a solo outlet, and this is it. Over time, and many independent releases, the band has fully formed to a four, sometimes five-piece group with more focus than ever. The edges have been smoothed, and the songs have much more depth on stage while never compromising the DIY mentality allows attached to this project.


The epic track, “The Dream,” has become quite the vehicle for the group to stretch out and explore some space, a characteristic rarely present in the genre of garage rock. The harmonies reached between Brigid and Dwyer are a seminal part of the sound crafted, and this track highlights the vocal interplay these two share often. The song now reaches close to double digits in length and John takes multiple fast-paced solos while tinkering with various pedals. His use of feedback has become extremely strong and adds even more depth to the sound. The band never leaves tempo during these flights.

The jangly favorite “Block of Ice” whipped the crowd into frenzy, per usual. Dwyer has become rather fond of his new-ish guitar, a avocado green 12-string that boasts a very full sound. After the crowd caught their breath, drummer Mike Shohun began the intro to “Lupine Dominus,” a recent single off of 2012’s Putrifers II EP, their 14th album. This highlight track demonstrates a more mature approach to their sound as the tempo has chilled a bit, and can even border on psych-pop. The vocals are softer, creating an eery, androgynous harmony. “I Was Denied” was another crowd favorite featured towards the end of their hour long set. Even for this seasoned listener, there is simply so much material Dwyer has released, and the song book is so deep, which is yet another reason I can simply never miss these guys in my city, or elsewhere for that matter.


One refreshing aspect of the progression this band has taken is a wider range of sounds. Once primarily a noise/psych/garage band, certain aspects of sludge and stoner rock are becoming featured sound, which lend to a wider depth of their live shows. Prime example was one of the encore tracks, “The Minotaur.” Having heard this song a few times, it drastically stands out from the rest with a laid back beat and almost relaxed nature.

John Dwyer is a San Francisco legend, straight up. It’s musicians like him that have worked their whole lives at creating something unique while always having fun doing it. He’s cool with playing backyards in Austin or bowling alley arcades in San Francisco for the rest of his life. If that doesn’t scream artist integrity, than I don’t know what does.



  1. Great Article Kevin! also, awesome to see Sam in the Mix. He needs to be a Bammer!


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