As soon as the Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer slammed into the hefty, fun-as-hell guitar riff to “Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster” about a third of the way through the band’s full moon, sold-out Labor Day set at Hotel Vegas’ patio, there was no turning back. Simply put, the L.A. (by way of San Francisco) scuzzed-out, garage psych-punk rock band gave Austin’s east side a night of full-throttle songs and electric mania.
Touring on the heels of their latest release “Orc” — their 16th full-length record, released Aug. 25 — the sheer excitement that stemmed from the group’s super-tight sound sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Almost instantly, a mosh pit formed as the band barrelled through brazen melodies and frenetic rhythms. Above it, there was a constant flow of crowd surfers who squirmed and flipped over backwards atop the sea of outstretched hands. As soon as one toppled to the ground from tired and unprepared hands, another would be running to jump into the crowd from center stage.
Dwyer — who’s 42, mind you — seemed to carry the entire band from the sheer power of his custom clear-acrylic Gibson SG electric guitar, played at chest level and occasionally held like a rifle. If he wasn’t busy shredding jarring, acid jams, he was weaving strange tales with his stranger, almost Goblin-like falsetto vocals.
However, it was the band’s two synchronized drummers, set up front at center stage, that were likely the sole source of the pandemonium in the crowd. The constant barrage of heavy hitting patterns from the duo created an irresistible blood-pumping adrenaline rush. Whenever the band devolved into experimental jams, the style subtly moved into a tribal, trance-like realm.
The unquestionably loud set covered nearly the entirety of the band’s career, from singles such as “The Dream,” “Tidal Wave” and “I Come From the Mountain,” to tracks off of the band’s newest record. Occasionally, the band would stop to breathe for a minute, and Dwyer took to the mic for some brief commentary.
“People were telling me ‘oh you gotta get some gas tanks, Austin doesn’t have any gas,” Dwyer said, with a cartoonishly high-pitched voice, early in their set. “Then we get here and there’s gas everywhere. You have plenty of gas!”
The crowd chuckled. Which if you’re out of the loop, rumors of Hurricane Harvey causing a gas shortage caused thousands of Texans to rush to the pump and thus create a temporary shortage late last week.
In the later portions of the set after its explosive first half, the band took to more of an experimental vibe, with elongated and spaced out jams. At one point, Dwyer toyed with effects pedals and created some cosmic noises from a mixture of microphone feedback and noise-making with his voice.
The band played solid from 9 to 10:30 p.m. with no encore, and even if there wasn’t a sound ordinance downtown, it may have been tough to keep up the chaos for two hours.
Here’s to hoping Hotel Vegas keeps doing more patio shows beyond their usual SXSW parties. If given the opportunity to attend an Oh Sees show, don’t hesitate — buy that ticket and buckle up.