Thee Oh Sees
If they once sounded anything like Neil Young, Fionola Meredith finds it hard to tell – she's too busy dancing
What can I tell you about the 'ever-evolving Californian pop-folk psychedelic group', Thee Oh Sees?
Well, one note into their set in the Black Box as part of the 2013 Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, and it's clear that the San Francisco band have clearly evolved yet again – this time into something far more punk-ravaged, dark and experimental.
There may have been sunny shades of Neil Young in there before, but if there are now, they are overlaid by something wilder, messier and much more devilish.
And I'm not complaining. Thee Oh Sees make one hell of a joyous racket. The noise the produce is so intense, so all-consuming, that it seem to flood the space with sound – as I pass through the crowd, I feel like I am moving through music, not air.
And then there is the way the driving beat travelling through your feet, up your legs, finding a place deep inside your guts... If I'm making this sound like some kind of holistic bodily experience, that's because it is. Not in the fluffy, pink-hearts-and-angels, New Age sense. More in the visceral, elemental, ear-shattering hard-rock sense, which is much more healthy and enjoyable.
Frontman John Dwyer brandishes his guitar like a living thing, holding it up in the air, twisting it round and swinging it back and forth like a pendulum. He show an odd inclination to eat the microphone too; don't ask me why, but it seems natural at the time, and it certainly doesn't interfere with his impressive vocal range.
Brigid Dawson's rhythmic shimmy with the tambourine, together with her simple, plangent harmonies (echoes of the Breeders here), bring a welcome lightness to the riot of sound. And I've never seen a more hard-working drummer than Mike Shoun, powering the whole operation from his unorthodox position right at the front of the stage.
I have to tell you, I can barely make out a single word of the lyrics. I know they play 'Toe Cutter-Thumb Buster', from their new album, Floating Coffin, though that's only because I know the song.
But I don't mind not having a clue what they are performing. You don't go to a gig like this looking for Goethe-esque philosophy. You go for the yowling guitars and gusts of whiny feedback. You go to remind your feet why they like to dance.
Thee Oh Sees are like a life-giving purge for the senses. Show me someone who doesn't feel refreshed and enlivened by having the face blasted off them by this band, and I'll show you someone who should be at home in their slippers, on the sofa, with a luke-warm mug of Ovaltine, listening to Heart of Gold.
The 2013 Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival continues until May 12.