Reverb Monsters Thee Oh Sees Flip the Script in Their Return to Bowery Ballroom
Is Thee Oh Sees’ September 8, 10 PM show at Bowery Ballroom going to be a wash since it’s right after the Labor Day weekend? Probably not, since the band had been on hiatus for much of this past year while frontman John Dwyer took care of Castle Face label business. And most everybody who’s coming back to town will be back by then. So if assaultively glimmering, reverb-drenched psychedelic garage rock is your thing, you should plan on getting to the venue a little early; general admission is $20.
Thee Oh Sees’ latest album – their fourteenth release – is Manipulator Defeated At Last (streaming at Soundcloud), and it’s a real curveball, an unexpectedly successful departure into retro 80s tropes. If you thought you knew this band, you’re in for all sorts of surprises – good ones. The opening track, Web starts out as a coy new wave strut until Dwyer comes in and throws lighter fluid on everything – is it a spoof? Maybe. Probably. The twin guitars doing a horn chart toward the end is period-perfect 80s.
Halloweenish whistling wind sonics and a slinky bassline explode into an early Joy Division stomp in Withered Head. Likewise, Poor Queen welds a lingering Daniel Ash-ish reverb guitar riff to a skittish 2/4 beat. Then Dwyer mashes up galloping garage rock with Syd Barrett and a tongue-in-cheek early 70s stoner rock riff in Turned Out Light.
Lupine Ossuary – you just gotta love this guy’s song titles – is Link Wray as Barrett would have done it, a surrealistically squalling one-chord jam. In what has become a sadistic formula, Dwyer juxtaposes a dreamily cinematic, serpentine early 60s organ theme with crushing guitars in Sticky Hulks: it’s the most psychedelic track here.
Acoustic guitars – WTF?!?! – build a web in tandem with the organ as the uneasy motorik theme Holy Smokes gets underway and remains in the fast lane. By contrast, Rogue Planet is sort of Wire as done by Guided by Voices. The album winds up with the murderously lingering, shuffling Palace Doctor, an ambling, ominously vamping, latin-tinged take on vintage Bauhaus. Wow. We take this band for granted and they just keep putting out great albums, this being one of their best.