To see Thee Oh Sees live is to cut open San Francisco and feast on its major rock organ. They’re bloody. They’re sticky. They’re pulsating. The band’s performances have been explosive ever since they put out their contorted, psychedelic, creeper classic “The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In.”
Last weekend they performed for Noise Pop at Café Du Nord. The crowd was filled with bobbing-head scenesters, digital cameras and drunken dancers. The band’s performance was clean, which left me wishing they had been more raw. Thee Oh Sees played a set that got the crowd dancing and screaming for more. After the band apologized for being too drunk (even though they were respectful of the crowd and their instruments, not skipping a beat), they came back on to play an encore.
All in all they put on a great show as usual, but to catch Thee Oh Sees in their most visceral groove you must travel south of Market St. to the best and only gay bar I’ve ever been to, The Eagle Tavern.
Thee Oh Sees thrive off seedy rock venues where the drinks are cheap and the crowd is rambunctious. However exuberant the crowd might be, lead singer John Dwyer has even more energy.
Despite the roughness of the rock Thee Oh Sees perform, the band members are kind and their lyrics are beautiful; “What for? My connection is your connection / The sun is shining I see your face / Turning it over I see the clover / The things that I love dear are taking shape.” Or for example, “Hey there waterfall / Tell me how you’re rolling by yourself / Tell me that is all you know to do,” off their earlier album, “Cool Death of The Island Raiders.”
Dwyer describes that album as a “come down album with a lot of pretty songs on it.” What began for Dwyer as ventilation while he wrote and performed for his previous bands (The Hospitals, The Coachwhips, and Pink and Brown), turned into Thee Oh Sees. Originally named OCS, Dwyer’s basement recordings can still be found around town and online.
“I just need to be writing songs,” said Dwyer, referring to the hundreds of short OCS songs he put out a few years back. Those tracks from the early OCS recordings are the beautiful, stripped down and experimental version of what Thee Oh Sees would become.
“The bridge between the OCS stuff and Thee Oh Sees is “Cool Death,”” says Dwyer, “Normally nice studios don’t get the sound I’m looking for but something just clicked for “Cool Death” and we had it done in a week.”
Today the band is comprised of lead singer and guitarist John Dwyer, tambourine and vocals Brigid Dawson, guitarist Petey Dammit and drummer Mike Shoun. During the band’s live set they will drift off into a distorted frenzy of feedback and eventually transition into a transcendent androgynous harmony created by Dwyer and Dawson.
Thee Oh Sees’ new album, “Help,” will be out this month. “Our guitarist, Petey, hates the Beatles, so I think were trying to get back at him for that,” said Dwyer.