This would be my fifth review of an Oh Sees show. What new things could I possibly have to say about them at this point? I wasn’t expecting to have much myself, but was pleasantly surprised by the dynamic range the band displayed Tuesday night (the first of two shows) at the Empty Bottle. I’ve come to expect them to play a lengthy, sweat-drenched set containing a decent selection of their best songs at break-neck speed with a few stretched to expansive and varied lengths. Last night was very diverse and rich tonally and the emphasis was turned to the doomy vibes buried under the warm fuzz and skuzz of their newest (and best to date if you ask me) album ‘Floating Coffin.’ I figured they’d skip most of my favourites from it in favor of songs that would get the sold out crowd moving. Instead they played all of my favourites—‘No Spell,’ ‘Minotaur’ and the gloriously dirgey, sludgy drone fest ‘Strawberries 1 + 2’—in addition to the tracks I was expecting (i.e. ‘I Come From the Mountain,’ ‘Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster’ and ‘Tunnel Time).
The expanded versions of live standbys ‘Block of Ice’ and ‘Dead Energy’ were present as were standards ‘Tidal Wave’ and ‘Meat Step Lively.’ Even though their ability to speed through their already fast songs wasn’t the order of the night the audience remained engaged and responsive. They ended their main set with an understated version of ‘Minotaur.’ What was most fascinating about this was the fact that it represented a shift in main man John Dwyer’s current iteration of Thee Oh Sees—which has specialized in tightly-played, cracked-out, trippy, psychedelic garage punk—which has now successfully incorporated the restrained, eerie and haunted beauty of the earliest stages of Thee Oh Sees as a full band. I’m hoping this means when I talk about how much I love ‘Sucks Blood’ and ‘Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion’ with a fan newer to the band that they are less willing to dismiss the band’s quieter stuff so quickly. Since Dwyer and the band have figured out a way to get the beauty and dynamics they are capable of married with their unparalleled speed and controlled abandon it seems that they are now, somehow, capable of anything.
Their encore represented this more than anything—‘Putrifiers ii’ standout ‘Lupine Dominus’ followed by the heavy, loud/quiet ‘Moon Sick’ EP standout ‘Humans Be Swayed’ (which they also ended the late set with at Logan Square Auditorium last year). The way the band let the latter track wind down to nothing, Dwyer holding his plastic guitar cocked like a rifle before exploding back into a jittery, fuzzy drone delivered the goods in a way that the band only hinted at during the Logan Square Auditorium show. I remember them playing ‘No Spell’ and ‘Humans Be Swayed’ there and feeling that they were on the verge of some significant breakthrough. When ‘Floating Coffin’ arrived in the spring this breakthrough crystallized and the band’s set at the Empty Bottle proved to be the final piece of the puzzle. After 14 rock solid albums how they have managed to pull this off is beyond me but, as always with Thee Oh Sees, I find it difficult to worry too much about it.