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Coachella 2013: Thee Oh Sees rule the Gobi Tent with joyous fury

April 15, 2013|By Randall Roberts | Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees performat the Coachella Music & Arts Festival in Indio on Sunday, April 14, 2013. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees performat the Coachella Music & Arts Festival… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

This post has been updated. See below for details. 

The riff that San Francisco rock band Thee Oh Sees presented at 3:50 p.m. at the closing moments of their rolling, frantic set, was still running through my head half an hour later, even though half a dozen rhythms from varying locales on the pitch of Coachella had entered it since.

That's one tough damn riff, from a new song called "Dead Energy," bass-heavy, smooth-groove house beats 50 yards away in the Sahara tent.

The band played a forceful bunch of songs -- at least judging by the four final ones that I saw -- that drove the tightly focused, crowd-surfing fans to adrenaline levels unimaginable the morning earlier. Adding to the chaos was guitarist/singer John Dwyer, whose thick mop-top tossed hard with the beat.

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A creepily charismatic lead man with lots of tattoos and a Buster Keaton way with expressions, he held his translucent guitar high on his chest, as did fellow guitarist and bassist Petey Dammit!; the latter had neck tattoos that'd make cowards like us cross the street.

He forged bass lines with down-tuned strings on his electric guitar, holding the neck of the instrument next to his ear like he was trying to hear his fingers nail the frets. That riff from "Dead Energy," kept driving, and at its peak seemed to be controlling the band instead of the other way around, a self-sustaining engine driven by drummer Mike Shoun's metronomic maneuvers, which he peppered with rolls and oblong fills.

All the while he stared straight into the daylight crowd, watching it like a professor observing a final exam. Standing next to him was fellow San Franciscan Ty Segall, who jangled bells while keyboardist/backing vocalist Brigid Dawson shook a tambourine.

Dwyer too stared menacingly into the crowd as he stepped to the mic to deliver a cartoonish wail. "Dead Energy," still casting forth, he moved into treble-heavy lines. He opened his mouth to reveal a white guitar pick.

Just as quickly he pulled it back in and burst forth with a piercing note. He opened his lips again, teased the pick, hit the note and a jumble of others, then a variation as the pick rode his tongue in and out. Finally he pinched the piece of plastic into his fingers, dove headfirst into a solo. With wild eyes, he lifted the body of his instrument to his face and gave it a lick, still propelling forward.

Update: The original version of this post misidentified the final song the band played. It was "Dead Energy," not, as originally written, "No Spell." We have changed the text accordingly. 

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