w/ Mike Donovan,
The New Parish
Last Thursday was a long day; the longest of my professional life. I served commercial duties for four distinct and entirely unrelated enterprises, hop skipping from one to the next with little pause between. Somehow, I even squeezed in dinner with the grandparents–a wholesome, home-cooked helping of lentil soup, sweetened by Grandma’s secret weapon: ham hock. Following an ACT cram session deep in Walnut Creek, I high-tailed back home to Oakland, buzzing through Caldecott Tunnel, my daily source of traffic-driven rage, at a speed so refreshing, so pure and true, that it unwound all my career-based woe in one fluorescent streak–20-or-so seconds of blinding bliss. It was that, or the pack of cigarettes that I bought shortly after, that set me straight and geared me for Ty Segall’s oncoming onslaught.
My photographer, Omeed, met me outside of The New Parish, crossing the street as I rounded the corner. The same comrade from the Speedy Ortiz show, the first returning collaborator since my days covering tourist traps in Vietnam, our shorthand was well in place before we entered the venue. With no need to conference, we darted straight to the stage and staked out our spot for the opening act. We’d missed the first, David Novick, but Jessica Pratt shied onto stage shortly after our approach.
Absent backing band and perched with an acoustic guitar on a stool, Pratt started softly and never rose much louder. Although her gentle fingerpicking and ethereal vocals were lovely–a shuffle of Stevie Nicks and Joanna Newsom–I was hoping for a stronger sonic jolt to kick off the night. Unable to settle on distinct words, simply floating in the melody, spring meadows leapt to mind–a world far from the shadowed club playing host. I grew restless and drifted off into the viewfinder of a competitor’s camera, spending the rest of the set considering angles and sabotage.
At the break, we retired to the interior courtyard, intent on nicotine. Like I’d done three months prior at a Japandroids and Cloud Nothings show, I sparked a cig and puffed away. Not three drags deep, a security guard marched over and instructed me to stomp it out, to take it outside, to the curb, like an animal. We complied–we had no choice–but with that stub of a cigarette, the fascists won away some small scrap of freedom.When we returned from our unwarranted exodus, Mike Donovan from Sic Alps took the stage for a bare bones set with a drummer and backup guitarist. There was a brief belief that this show might ramp up into something closer to catharsis, but every tune was an easy vibe buoyed by weaving guitars. Power pop hooks twisted through a lo-fi filter, Donovan fused 70s AM radio and Velvet Underground drug strum into an interchangeable series of hooky, mid-tempo breezes. Catchy, certainly, yet nothing really stuck.
While we waited for the main event, Omeed cruised the merch table and chatted up Ty Segall, informing the shaggy blonde surfer bum that he was there for his soul, Aboriginally speaking. True to his stress-free persona, Segall stilled for a quick candid devoid of wrenched smile or invented intrigue. I thought to join in, to start a line of interrogation over the Laguna Beach native’s recent interview on tacos for the A.V. Club, to really get to the bottom of just what the hell he fills his veggie tacos with, but the window closed before I’d gathered a thought worth sharing.
Then Ty took over and everything else up and left. Though not drastically different instrumentation than the previous subduing acts–two acoustic guitars, a bass, and drums–Segall delivered his bedroom rock with more urgency and power, resulting in a far more compelling show. With a nasally timbre, borrowed in part from Marc Bolan, his vocals sailed over the mellow mix and rang clear through the crowd, providing the spark that was absent before.
It didn’t hurt that his material killed. Performing his most recent release, Sleeper, in its entirety, Segall matched the high sonic quality of the record, while pumping the songs full of live zeal. A collection of stripped-down tracks devoid of the electric mayhem typical of Ty releases, the Drag City artist wrote the album following the death of his adopted father and subsequent fall-out with his mother, the somber musical pallet matching the weighty emotional content. Not your standard Segall series of psychedelic raves and feedback fueled jams, Sleeper isn’t out of character so much as a significant growth in the 26-year old’s young, but prolific career.
There was always depth in his work and he’s played with the softer side before, but this new release proves the versatility of thesongwriter’s talent and posits an alternate universe where he built his name on quasi-CSNY, rather than raw power. Onstage, Segall showcased the same range by switching from the night’s weapon of choice, strummed acoustic guitar, to distorted slide and thunderous drums for emphatic punctuations to several songs. With an equally talented backing band providing spot-on harmonies and consistent grooves, album stand-outs like “Crazy” and “She Don’t Care” provoked head nods and shoulder twitches throughout the crowd; my fellow pilgrims subdued and entranced by the earthy psych-pop nuggets.
After running through the album, Ty paused–either toying with his captives or plotting his next move–before announcing that he’d be playing a cover. I didn’t recognize the tune, but from the opening chord, I knew that Segall aimed to follow up the baring of soul with some fuck-it-all rock and roll. With a rollicking tempo, barked vocals, and galloping backbeat, the unwashed masses, desperate all this time for an excuse to lose it, accepted Ty’s invitation and broke the front half of the room into a mosh pit. Though it wasn’t anything serious, no real fisticuffs or vicious elbows, the response shined a satisfied smirk from behind the frontman’s blonde mop.
Of course, we’re still human–a predominantly cutthroat species–and some twisted bastard had to go and spoil the scene by buying a bottle of beer for the sole purpose of bathing his neighbors in it. If you’re going to spray your fellow man in liquor, at least have the decency to grant the option of ingestion. Elsewhere in the fracas, during a particularly rousing number from the back catalog, a reveler lost a loafer, prompting a between song hunt by the owner. Another number, another shoe; Segall called it out (“Another loafer out there”) and gave sound follow-up advice (“Tie them tight”).
By this juncture, I’d lost what little momentum remained and the professional weight caught back up. It looked as though Ty Segall could roar on all night, a reality that I was not ready for. Hoping that Ty would conclude the set soon and that I wouldn’t miss a single, special thing, I gave the signal to Omeed and we called it at 12:30. Who knows how much longer he played, but the taste that I’d caught was more than enough stimulus for one evening; at long last, it was time to sleep.