Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Garage rocker Ty Segall strikes with irresistible crowd surfing tunes

Proto garage rocker Ty Segall headlined the Nashville's Dead Birthday Party at local motorcycle shop The Zombie Shop last fall, but I was a klutz and had to leave before he went on. So given a second chance to see the Bay area wunderkid, it was inconceivable to miss out again. He delivered for the sell out crowd a sound that is very sun soaked, retro, and melodic, but at the heart of it all is covered in a two inch thick coat of grime and distortion.

It all led to what surely must have been one of the most frenetic nights that Nashville's The End has seen in some time. Broken beer bottles had to be scooped off the stage before Mr. Segall made his appearance. Once he got going, there was no safe hiding place anywhere on the floor. The entire area directly in front of the stage transformed into a gigantic mosh pit.

San Francisco based rocker Ty Segall unleashes on the Nashville crowd.

Attendees were being thrust against the stage, jostled all around, and continually crowd surfing. It was like a no holds barred, anything goes melee; there was always someone climbing onto the stage, turning around, and hopping into the audience to crowd surf. At one point, a big shirtless Hispanic guy dove into the crowd right where I was standing and sent my glasses flying. Fortunately, I retrieved them in one piece.

Segall himself was in fine form. At twenty five years old he's still babyfaced, but his curly blonde mop of tangled locks hangs down into his face and obscures his eyes, making him appear positively leonine. He blistered through his set in about 30-45 minutes, kicking it off with "Thank God for Sinners," the opening cut from last October's Twins album. When the glorious clarity of its opening chords rang out, the power keg in the audience that had been primed to blow finally went off. The abundance of fuzz and the jam session style of its various guitar solos threatened at times to verge into metal, bearing similarity to the sound of Tony Iommi in Black Sabbath.

But Segall is equally proficient at driving, straight ahead, 60s drive in theater rock and roll. A few songs from last summer's Slaughterhouse, his most successful album to date, illustrate the point. "Tell Me What's Inside Your Heart" is buoyed by vibrant power chords, and filled with a joyful euphoria that for so long was noted as one of surf rock's hallmarks.

He also has a zany side that he revealed when giving some little known backstory from a couple of Slaughterhouse tracks. Setlist staple "I Bought My Eyes," he explained, is about a space alien who has his eyes ripped out and has to go to another planet to buy some more. He followed up a little later before he played "The Tongue " describing that song as being about the alien going to see his girlfriend, but she rejects him because of his new eyes. He goes mad, tears his tongue out, and gives it to her as a gift. A bit wacky, but hey.

He closed it out, fittingly, with "Wave Goodbye," during which he was much more expressive with his hand gestures, including waving at the crowd while delivering his lines. It ended with an explosive instrumental cauldron that drew inspiration from Black Sabbath, The Stooges, and Jimi Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic." After two dates here within the past six months, he also announced it would likely be the last time he'd be in Nashville for quite awhile. As much as we'll miss him, he's certainly earned a break after demonstrating himself as one of the best at delivering scorching, sweat soaked, and rollicking hard rock performances.

Memphis punk band Ex-Cult have become a top understudy of Segall.

He was preceded by a slew of opening acts, all heavily influenced by proto garage rock and punk. The problem with Ty Segall openers, demonstrated well by the Nashville's Dead party, is that they sound almost exactly identical and are virtually indistinguishable from one another. Maybe one is a little more punk influenced, or little more hardcore influenced, but it's all a wash after a couple of hours of it.

The best of the bunch was Memphis's Ex-Cult, whose 2012 self titled debut was produced by Segall and recorded in the same San Francisco studio where Thee Oh Sees and other bands of their ilk have recorded. Their set was upbeat and adrenaline charged, with lead vocalist Chris Shaw doing his best to carry on the Oi! tradition of old British punk singers. He employed an energetic, in your face style, while bassist Natalie Hoffmann blared piecing shrieks into the mic. The crowd was already starting to get nuts even at this point. Shaw's mic cord got tangled around one of the crowd surfers and he pulled on it desperately trying to yank it free, to no avail. Eventually he had to borrow Hoffmann's mic just to finish out the song.

See also: Ty Segall - Slaughterhouse review

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