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, John Dwyer’s band Oh Sees play a trio of sold-out homecoming shows this week at the Chapel with support from LA-based post-punk band Prettiest Eyes and ambient solo act LFZ.
The brainchild of former SF underground rock fixture John Dwyer (Pink and Brown, Coachwhips), the band was initially known as the OCS or Orinoka Crash Suite 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 in 2016 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 scorching album Orcs in August of last year. The group would managed two more releases before the end of the year, delivering the stripped-down acoustic with strings effort Memory of a Cut Off Head that brought Dawson back into the fold as vocalist (a special line-up of the group played a handful of stunning shows) and the Dead Medic EP that featured two extended tracks recorded during the Orc sessions.
Dwyer and company were uncharacteristically quiet for much of 2018, but in the summer put out the band’s 21st album Smote Reverser. While the collection’s first song “Overthrown” stands as one of the heaviest and most unhinged songs the band has ever produced, the album would be praised as one of the more wide ranging and eclectic efforts the band has put out. Dwyer has continued down that path with the group’s latest effort, Face Stabber. Released in August, the album features the longtime quartet line-up being joined by keyboard player Tomas Dolas as a full-time member and includes two of Dwyer’s longest extended compositions yet — the keyboard-powered 14-minute prog cut “Scutum & Scorpius” and the 21-minute psychedelic Afrobeat/fusion jam “Henchlock.”
For these three sold-out shows at the Chapel, the group will be joined by a pair of acts currently recording for Castle Face Records. Prettiest Eyes, a droning, synth-driven LA-based post-punk trio that echoes the sounds of early NYC electro-punk experimentalists Suicide, while LFZ is the ambient solo project of noted guitarist Sean Smith.
Monday-Wednesday, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 8 p.m. $30-$32 (sold out)