Ty Segall at the Hi-Dive
How Ty Segall Indirectly Advised Me to Invest in Earplugs:
Tuesday night at the Hi-Dive I was separated by a dear friend of mine in the midst of a drunken, sweaty crowd of violent dancers set to the brutal soundtrack of Memphis hardcore-garage act Ex-Cult (I haven’t experienced a mosh pit since middle school, I forgot what I was missing out on.) While I hugged my camera close, a phantom limb of a stranger apparently knocked my lens cap onto the ground scattered with a battlefield of stomping, shuffling feet. With a heavy heart, I accepted this as an inevitable yet tragic casualty in the honorable cause of Punk Combat. It didn’t take long for my spirits to be lifted however: with the searing, gritty explosion of sound produced by Ty Segall and friends it was absolutely unavoidable to lose yourself in the music, precisely like I temporarily lost my hearing.
Setting off this relentless night of musical sweltering rage was Denver outfit Dirty Few, comprised of two brothers from Nashville and a roommate they met subsequent to relocating to the Mile High City. Their collection of loose, loud, fast punk tunes blasted through the Hi-Dive’s monitors with raw intensity and undying energy established the tone for the night: you should probably be inebriated or have a full thermos of strong joe to keep up with these guys. I had the convenience of neither, but my throbbing headache was absolutely worth it.
Seth and Spencer Stone on drums and guitar/lead vox (respectively) along with bassist Justin Trujillo cranked out a collection of material from their debut album Get Loose, Have Fun (which in my opinion is as aptly titled as it could be). “Can I get a goddamn?!” was a motif of the set, being yelled into the mic by Spencer to rouse the crowd, who were clearly still warming up themselves. In a few words, Dirty Few are: blazingly ironic yet utterly sincere; they are so young, yet they expertly united blazing choruses of indecipherable lyrics and an electrifying enthusiasm for unfiltered, raucous punk anthems. I would see these guys tear it up again, hands down.
Next up was another Denver group called Thee Dang Dangs and no, I did not misspell “the.” Directly paying homage with their name to San Francisco based lo-fi four piece Thee Oh Sees, TDD’s are a delightful fusing of fuzzy surf guitar riffs, reverb-heavy psychedelic vocals by frontlady Rebecca Williams, and the propelling momentum of simple yet powerful garage rock drumming. Their sound conjures up images of dirty bums wandering around on Venice Beach in the 60s in a hazy search for something heavier to cave in droopy eyelids. The most succinct description I’ve read of their Stone Coast EP (from Westword’s review) is that it “sounds like it was recorded in the bathroom of a Sunset Strip titty bar in 1967.” I dare you to have a listen and not visualize this image.
Williams’ reverb-soaked squeals and wails melded with the cloudy guitar lines and terse percussion patterns like a funny cigarette matches the crackle of your favorite their influences are, because it’s so apparent within the sun-drenched howls and crunchy guitar riffs. Who knows, maybe they’ll become an act to revisit 50 years in the future, just as they are fondly recreating and reinventing sounds from our musical past right now in 2013.
After the lighthearted whimsy of Dirty Few and the wistful remembrance brought on by Thee Dang Dangs, the band formerly known as Sex Cult stormed the stage, bringing with them a hurricane of gritty animosity: one could sense the mood in the air change in the Hi-Dive as soon as they launched into their aggressive, eardrum-shattering set with a fierce energy permeating the room and injecting itself into the audience. While their self-titled debut album possesses a sense of clarity and a more streamlined punk aesthetic (which makes the listener recall they share members with fellow Memphis indie-pop act Magic Kids), their live show was a vigorous bombardment of hostile shouted vocals, pounding drums, and unforgiving guitar and bass lines pushing forward like a steamroller, like a freight train off its tracks. Perhaps the most brilliantly alarming facet of the set was frontman Chris Shaw’s furrowed eyebrows and electrifying glare into the crowd as he teetered back and forth on the edge of the stage, bellowing lyrics with the unadulterated passion of Jim Caviezel. It was as if he was a wicked puppet master, maliciously twisting and manipulating the strings of the crowd to go completely nutso. It was a truly fascinating and vivid spectacle.
It’s no surprise Ex-Cult launched on tour with Ty Segall, as he took a liking to the group upon seeing them perform at SXSW and asked them to come to San Francisco to record an album that he would produce. Segall’s blessing is nothing short of a golden opportunity because he is arguably one of the most important tastemakers in DIY punk since his emergence on the scene in 2005. Judging by how voraciously Ex-Cult blasted through their songs, setting the audience on fire with their scorching riffs and blistering vocals, I questioned the “ex” part of their moniker: it seems as if they are currently a cult, worshipping at the throne of garage-punk and noise-rock’s colorful and influential history. The highlight for me occurred at the beginning of the set when a sloshed fan obnoxiously cried, “Are you guys from Memphis?” Upon Shaw’s confirmation, the dude yelled back, “That place sucks!” Shaw looked him dead in the eyes and exclaimed, “You suck, motherfucker.” At the end of his last syllable, a towering wave of tenacious punk rancor washed over everyone’s ears,and in that moment, I swear we were cult.
Finally, it was time for our friend Ty. Mr. Segall has established himself as a pivotal element in the San Francisco garage/punk scene, being a crucial member of bands including The Traditional Fools, The Perverts, Sic Alps, Party Fowl, and Epsilon, along with a noteworthy solo career kick-started by his excellent cassette Horn the Unicorn in 2008. This set, played as the Ty Segall Band, featured a smattering of tracks mainly found on two records released both in 2012: Twins and Slaughterhouse. After such a lengthy tour and ultimately being one of the busiest artists making and producing music these days, it would stand to reason Ty and his mates would be utterly exhausted upon reaching the Hi-Dive. But this didn’t surface, not one bit; their enthusiasm on stage was as infectious as possible, and their sound pure and loud. Just as it should be.
While the previous three acts all presented their own distinct and clearly recognizable shticks, Segall along with bandmates Shayde Sartin (guitar and backing vox) and Emily Rose (drums) simply let the music speak for itself – this stood as a wise decision, any added theatrics or forced aesthetic would have subtracted from the quality of the performance. This in itself speaks volumes of Segall’s familiarity with the stage. There was very minimal banter between the band and the crowd, the set solely saturated by music; one could sense Ty wanted to waste no time in idle chitchat. Standout tracks like “Thank God for Sinners,” “Girlfriend,” “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart,” and “I Bought My Eyes” all were performed with equal parts haste and precision: Ty’s noodly solos were amplified above Rose’s hammering drums at just the right level, never sloppy but always gravelly; his crooning harmonies with Sartin were perched atop unyielding power chords played by both in unison; every element was balanced to produce a sound that was at once polished and gruff, which is everything a fan could want from a punk show. And trust me, every fan there ate it up. This trio was a powerhouse crammed together in a slaughterhouse.
As I was jammed up against the speakers on the left side of the stage to avoid being helplessly whisked around the furiously passionate crowd like the sack of skin and bones I am, I hastily snapped photos, desperately attempting to capture Ty and company as they exploded through a catalogue of galvanized punk bliss. Therefore, my poor naked ears were stabbed with a million tiny daggers of crispy distortion. By the time the band closed their set with a robustly charged cover of Black Sabbath’s undeniable trademark anthem “Paranoid,” that archetypal guitar riff piercing my brain, I was unsure if I would ever be able to hear normal speaking volume again. When I ambled outside the Hi-Dive to the forgiving cold night air filling my lungs, my ears rang with a high-pitched tinny note and I told myself, “I am buying ear plugs, right now.” So thank you, Ty and comrades: not only for the tremendous night of music, but also for teaching me a valuable lesson; I owe you my hearing, because you nearly took it away. You really never appreciate what you have until it’s gone.
Review and photos by Sig Steiger.