By Michael Waller
In the past, rock and roll conjured images of bands—three to five guys filling various instrumental positions, each contributing their own sound and aesthetic to the mixture. John, Paul, George, and even Ringo meshed their respective song writing, musical, and personal talents to form a single entity in the Beatles. In today’s sonic landscape, the trend is more towards auteurs—one guy writing, recording, and producing a record, then telling three to four other guys how to fill in the various instrumental positions to his liking, exemplified by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker.
Thee Oh Sees, by comparison, are a band in between the two extremes. From the band’s recent appearance at Bowery Ballroom on Nov. 18, one of four in NYC this week, it is clear that John Dwyer is the group’s irrevocable frontman, but he does not alone equate to Thee Oh Sees.
Over the course of the band’s nearly seventeen year run, Thee Oh Sees have made their name synonymous with prolific releases and raucous shows, which they delivered on in their character of consistency. The current iteration of Dwyer, Timothy Hellman, and Nick Murray (White Fence’s touring drummer), replicate the band’s songs well, but they lack something in charisma. Though Dwyer undeniably carries the heaviest burden within the band’s lineup, with Hellman and Murray he basically performs a one man show, his yawping and thrashing around starkly contrasted by Hellman and Murray, who seemed fully concentrated on playing everything correctly, rather than looking cool while doing so.
They accomplished this task with one exception. For the band’s final song, Dwyer launched into a new one built upon a funky bass line that took Hellman a minute or so to relearn. Following that brief hiccup, the song developed Zeppelin-type groove, descending into bits of head banging thrash before Dwyer hopped on keys, adding a cosmic layer to the performance.
Though Thee Oh Sees manage without Brigid Dawson’s haunting backing vocals, Mike Shoun’s constipated drumming, and Petey Dammit’s distinct baritone guitar, they are not complete without them. Songs like, “The Dream,” and “Tidal Wave”(of “Breaking Bad” fame) remain intact in their absence, carried completely by Dwyer’s shouting and shredding, while others like “Meat Step Lively” and “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster,” are incomplete without Petey’s controlled swing and Dawson’s ghastly cooing to add another unsettling layer to the off-kilter psychedelia.
With their current Dwyer-heavy lineup, Thee Oh Sees have no problem entertaining, but the strongly felt absences of the band’s core members leave something to be desired.
Michael Waller is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org