By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most popular San Francisco bands to emerge from the garage-rock underground in the past decade, the Oh Sees play a pair of homecoming shows this week at the Great American Music Hall with support from local prog-rock faves the Once and Future Band.
The brainchild of former SF underground rock fixture John Dwyer (Pink and Brown, Coachwhips), the band was initially known as the OCS or Orange County Sounds as the musician explored lo-fi home recordings with a decidedly more laid-back sound than his earlier garage-punk outfits. The project would gradually expand to feature percussionist Patrick Mullins and later singer/keyboardist Brigid Dawson. The first album as The Ohsees was the freak-folk effort produced by members of TV On the Radio — The Cool Death of Island Raiders in 2006 — and featured Dwyer’s and Dawson’s vocals steeped in reverb.
In the years that followed, the line-up evolved as Dwyer decided to turn up the energy and appeal to the audience he built with the Coachwhips. After adding new members guitarist Petey Dammit and drummer Mike Shoun and changing the moniker to Thee Oh Sees, the band would release a steady stream of singles and albums including such acclaimed efforts as 2008’s The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In, Warm Slime and the more pop-minded Castlemania in 2012.
A reputation as an incendiary live act helped further spread the word of the band, as did such propulsive and chaotic releases as Carrion Crawler/The Dream, Putrifiers II and Floating Coffin before the band underwent some major changes. The longtime live quartet line-up went on an indefinite hiatus after a final 2013 late show at the Great American Music Hall prior to the band leader relocating to Los Angeles.
Dwyer recorded Thee Oh Sees’ 2014 album Drop largely on his own with contributions from longtime engineer and collaborator Chris Woodhouse and a few others. He would unveil a new version of Thee Oh Sees featuring bassist Timothy Hellman and drummer Nick Murray that still delivered the kind of chaotic and cathartic onstage mayhem that has become the band’s trademark. Last year, Dwyer brought Dawson back to record Mutilator Defeated At Last for his own Castle Face Records imprint for a deeper exploration of the krautrock sounds the band has touched on with its last few efforts.
Dwyer later emerged with another line-up featuring Hellman with two drummers (Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon) to tour extensively and track the explosive in-concert document Live In San Francisco recorded during a sold-out three-night July residency at the Chapel that last summer. That version of the band made it’s studio debut on the equally acclaimed A Weird Exits (and the mellower instrumental companion piece An Odd Entrances).
While the departure of Moutinho late last year stripped the band back to a trio for a time, drummer Paul Quattrone (of the bands !!! and Modey Lemon) has since joined the crew. This past summer, Dwyer announced he was shortening the band’s name to simply Oh Sees prior to releasing the outfit’s latest album Orcs last month. Returning to play San Francisco for the first time since the blistering set they delivered as headliners at the Phono Del Sol Festival in June, Oh Sees will be joined by Castle Face band and Bay Area pop/prog favorites Once and Future Band.
Anchored by frontman and keyboard/guitar player Joel Robinow, Once and Future Band first came together in 2012. Made up of veteran musicians who already had a history together — Robinow and bassist Eli Eckert were both members of experimental riff rockers Drunk Horse in addition to playing with drummer Raj Ojha in local psych-guitar hero Ethan Miller’s band Howlin’ Rain — the group coalesced to give Robinow’s ever-growing book of songs an outlet outside his home recordings.
Early line-ups of Once and Future Band would feature noted Bay Area guitar wizards Isaiah Mitchell (the Earthless and Golden Void virtuoso who was also part of the same storied version of Howlin’ Rain) and Phil Manley (Trans Am, The F—ing Champs), who contributed to the group’s 2014 recording debut, the Brain EP.
The band would later welcome guitarist Raze Regal (of local psych band Planes of Satorai) as a full-time member. That line-up would produce their proper full-length debut on Castle Face Records. The dazzling self-titled effort is simultaneously more ambitious and more accessible, weaving candy-coated high harmony vocals and earworm melodies worthy of Harry Nilsson, Steely Dan’s Becker/Fagan combination and ELO mainstay Jeff Lynne into the tunes’ meticulously crafted arrangements. But where their ’70s prog-rock forebears would sometimes drift into ponderous pretension, songs like the ascendant opener “How Does It Make You Feel?” and the joyfully propulsive “Rolando” have an undeniably infectious vibe.
Since celebrating the release of the album last January, the band has remained busy. In addition to playing it’s first ever run of arena shows opening for experimental metal mavericks Tool on the East Coast which introduced their eclectic sound to thousands of new fans, the band was invited to play post-punk icons Wire’s curated DRILL Festival in Los Angeles last spring and recently shared the stage with like-minded Swedish psychedelic explorers Dungen for a number of shows around Northern California that saw former guitarist Mitchell rejoining the band as a special guest. This pair of two great acts is sure to have the Great American Music Hall packed on Wednesday and Thursday.
Oh Sees with Once and Future Band
Wednesday-Thursday, Sept. 27-28, 8 p.m. $25-$27
The Great American Music Hall