By Jacqueline Howell

Review: Oh Sees (OCS/ Thee Oh Sees) at Danforth Music Hall Toronto, Friday September 15th

A full Friday night of music featuring warm up sets by Toronto Surf Punk band King Beez, Peeling (Toronto) and Solids (Montreal) sets the stage for Oh Sees highly anticipated return in support of their August release, Orc.

Oh Sees (who are now making music under OCS again and best known as Thee Oh Sees) in their 20th year with as many albums under their various incarnations, transform the fabulous Danforth Music Hall into something that feels not just like the hottest spot in the downtowns of our imagination, but of our imagination of the mythical 1970s we all long for.

The Garage/ Psych / Freak Folk band’s opening three songs include new single “The Static God”, while the set overall ranges pretty broadly across the band’s impressive roster. Well-represented are albums Mutilator Defeated at Last (“Sticky Hulks”, “Web”, “Withered Hand”), Carrion Crawler / The Dream (“Contraption / Soul Desert”, “The Dream”) and Floating Coffin (“I Come from the Mountain”, “Toe Cutter / Thumb Buster”.)

Oh Sees stage set up is worth mentioning: all four band members are foregrounded in a row close to the front of stage, including their two drummers. Unusual, and impressive: two drummers working in tandem with almost no breaks for about 2 hours is something that must be seen from all corners of the room.

John Dwyer’s signature playing style and the band’s tightness with long, fluid, meandering riffs create a beautiful sense of time suspended and rearranged. It’s often hard to totally forget the innate routine of all live performances when you are an active concert-goer, the rhythm that despite what band is up there conforms to certain norms and imposed rules. We are too tied to the ever-present blinding flash of the phone screen, and the automatic glance at the time. But here, tonight, it goes sideways and feels spontaneous and alive in a way that is very rare in this city. The mobile devices are mostly stashed in favour of something deliciously throwback. Many of us are old enough to know just how much music needs to throw us all back into something more real, and for tonight it is the law of the land.

The rhythm of Oh Sees is uniquely their own, following its own internal flow.  The live show’s psych meanderings do nothing to disrupt the unflagging energy & pace of the overall thing. The mind drifts along this river of sound, this is what we came for, imagining things out of Dungeons & Dragons and remembering snatches of things from the fringes of the fantasy books that many creative people subsisted on in their youth. Back when Fantasy and D&D was uncool, underground, thought, prejudged by the uptight establishment to be dangerous. Good music is always dangerous. In the best way.

It’s a really happy and lively crowd tonight. An impressive amount of friendly- seeming crowd surfing including females is a feature, and those held aloft seem to be held up in a friendly way all across the front of the hall, rolling gently like beach balls. No one seems to take a sudden dive. Real music is doing its job, like no one else can do. The outside world is forgotten for a precious few hours. (Hey, did anyone ever claim that lost shoe?)

Touring the just-released Orc, (and ahead of November release Memory of a Cut Off Head) Oh Sees occupy a prime place in the very valid, not at all “just trendy”, decidedly genuine grass-roots rebirth of vinyl appreciation with its special properties that make it worth shelling out real money for, in contrast to all the years of whining from the out of step major labels (and in a heartwarming collective middle finger to the music “experts”). Fans take John Dwyer at his word near-ish the end of the set when he says the song they are about to launch into is a long one if anyone wants a break (i.e. bathroom, bar or merch) leading to a brief exodus to clean out the already picked over merch table. Fans briskly return to the hall with armloads of records, records that are seemingly full of treasures like limited edition colored vinyl and limited issues. This band knows their way around fantasy, for sure. And it’s a great goddamn time to be a live music fan in this part of the world.

A long and wide-ranging tour schedule over the summer continues in select cities until September 25th. You can still catch Oh Sees in Chicago, Milwaukee, Missoula, Vancouver and Portland.

Photos gallery by Dave MacIntyre