Rock Rover played host to a raucous night of acid and garage rock mayhem on Sunday, as cult psychsters Oh Sees kicked the roof off.
There were a fair few punters sauntering in, sporting Black Sabbath shirts, so it was only appropriate that ORB – one of the finest modern purveyors of doomy 70s metal – kicked off proceedings. For only a three-piece they generated a huge sound, with opener Vibration living up to its name in the literal sense. The bass and guitar unison riffs hit like a block of lead, and when the instruments went their own way it was refreshing to hear the guitar provide the harmonic backdrop, while the heavily distorted bass served up melodic lines.
With the crowd warmed up, on came Oh Sees. The band has a rich history as psych rock troublemakers, with over 20 years behind them and just as many albums. For this we have to thank frontman and mastermind John Dwyer, who has used the band as his conduit for all manner of psych, garage, lo-fi, punk and hard rock experiments. With such a large backlog of tunes and boundless energy, they came to entertain, and they did so for close to two hours.
The band ripped through its material chronologically with nary a break in sight. The energy level was turned to eleven from the get-go, both from the band and the crowd. Fan favourites such as demented surf rock piece Tidal Wave, epic thrasher The Dream, and chaotic punk rocker I Come From the Mountain all made an appearance. The crowd was nuts throughout, with barely a song passing by without a moshpit or a half-dozen crowd surfers. Dwyer was a delight, brandishing his guitar like a weapon, and certainly using it like a sonic machine gun. This wasn’t to take away from the other band members – especially enthralling was the twin drummer attack. On long-form pieces such as Sentient Oona, the rhythm section created a lock-step jungle rhythm that was both hypnotic and hectic.
Above all, Oh Sees are a masterful jam band, with an excellent feel for dynamics. On slower numbers such as Moon Bog and organ-driven highlight Sticky Hulks they expertly weaved between spooky organ interludes and rabble-rousing blasts of heavy metal noise, building the tension just right. On looser tracks like Jettisoned the band stretched out with fast-paced, frantic jams. Yet despite the heavily instrumental nature of these sets, Oh Sees also stayed very tight: the improvisation never lost momentum, with the band switching back to another hook or motif before things got too stale. The only restless moment came halfway through the set, where a guitar malfunction caused a brief lull between songs. If there was a complaint it would be against the vocals – the high-paced nature of the set cut down Dwyer’s vocal range. The absence of the falsetto vocal hook on The Static God, for instance, was a tad disappointing.
A minor quip, however. As the band ended on C, jamming like the second coming of 70s Deep Purple, you come away realising that your attention (as well as a swirling moshpit) was maintained for close to two hours, and could well have been for two hours more. A great performance by one of the best psych bands in the business.