Ty Segall is better at playing drums than most "official" drummers in his side project, Fuzz. Photo: Stakerized!
The first time I saw Ty Segall was in 2011 at the FYF Festival in Los Angeles, and I got the feeling, immediately, that he would be one to watch in the lo-fi indie rock realm. Besides his instinct for hummable yet suitably ramshackle melodies and chord structures, he just takes a lot of obvious enjoyment in playing music, as opposed to so many twee, aloof or effete hipster bands lately. He really gets into it physically—soaked in sweat (how many bands even break a sweat anymore?) and often also breaks into a grin. Since 2011, he’s come quite a ways, musically as well as in critical esteem, releasing three albums on Drag City, in addition to the ones he’d put out prior to that on some smaller labels. I just found out he used to be in Sic Alps. One of my fondest memories of Slowtrain before they closed was a Sic Alps in-store in their basement. (I miss Slowtrain!) Segall has also expanded his sonic palette, as shown by this event with his newest project, psychedelic trio Fuzz.
Max Pain were the Groovies were the local opener, and they are probably the ideal Salt Lake band to open for any Ty Segall enterprise, but especially Fuzz. I think I like the long-hair version of hipsters better than their more staid, close-coiffed counterparts—less ironic, for one thing. It’s easier to "let your hair down" when you actually have some to let down. Still, the crowd, more or less, are hipsters: tight jeans, facial hair and purposely unfashionable hats! A lot of their songs are countrified psychedelic stomps that show a great awareness of the music of the ’60s, and are also reminiscent of My Morning Jacket and its frontman, Jimmy James. They’re a very audience-friendly band that gets the crowd moving. They also vary their sound enough, with a few slower, minor-key numbers, and changes in dynamics, to make for a very interesting set with a variety of tonal dynamics, including the expected guitar effects, but also some folky touches. At the end, they raise things to a head, and close on a dramatic crescendo. I have a soft spot for the psychedelic stuff, and I always have fun watching this five-piece play, first having seen them at that Utah Arts Festival. They might be my favorite local band right now—well, now that the Red Bennies and Vile Blue Shades have packed it in (though the latter is coming back for a Halloween show). Maybe next to Pink Lightning. MP&G have played CBGB’s in New York and SXSW, for some real outside cred. If this is a "Utah band," we don’t have anything to be embarrassed about. Max Pain’s next show is an EP release with Portland garage band Wooden Indian Burial Ground, Nov. 1 at the Garage on Beck.
Seattle trio Night Beats then set the time machine for the 1960s, for some music that didn’t just bear an influence from that era, but sounded like it came directly from a garage in that decade, belted out in the living space of someone’s beat-up old MG. Vintage instruments really do make a difference in the sound, and they have nailed it. Plus those old guitars just plain look cool! Lee Blackwell most often plays some spare, trebly, blues-influenced figures that reinforce his vocal melodies, but then he’ll let rip with some effects-laden solos, reverb, tremolo or even a touch of delay. The result is like the Flaming Groovies meet Roky Erickson down a dark hallway in some Texas dive. It’s really a delicious musical discovery, like some whisky-soaked, down-home BBQ.
If this evening is a psychedelic session, next up, CCR Headcleaner from San Francisco are the bad acid. When they were setting up, I notice the one guitarist sporting a tie-dye tank top, striped spandex pants and among other tattoos, one that includes the "Jesus fish" with "666" inside. It gets worse—later, I realize the tank top has a Deadhead logo. This quartet, which includes a bassist/vocalist who warms up with a New Order riff and looks like Weird Al on a bad trip, plays a lot of slow, overly loud psych-metal dirges that go nowhere fast, sending a lot of us outside to the back patio to smoke or just clear our heads. They took the crowd from most everybody dancing to nobody dancing. Great. When you say it’s "’too loud," that’s really code for, "This music sucks!" Dinosaur Jr. can never be too loud, for example. And wait till you hear Fuzz!
It’s another three-piece (the most economical rock unit. I mean, you could go two-piece, but unless you are someone crazy talented like the White Stripes, it still sounds like something’s missing. The bass, that’s what!) So Ty Segall is gonna drum. This should be interesting. Imagine if Jimi Hendrix sat down on drums and let the other guys in his band play guitar. Segall is no Hendrix, but it’s somewhat the same sensation. He sets up a rather minimal kit in the center of the stage, with the guitarist and bassist on either side. He will clearly be the center of attention. When you have what looks to be a one-off project like Fuzz, with just one self-titled album this year (In the Red Records), you don’t have a huge repertoire. But it’s apparent from the start that these are extended jams, in the grand tradition of Hendrix, early Clapton and other ’60s guitar heroes, although with the massive amount of fuzz (what else?) on both guitar and bass, it sounds more like Blue Cheer.
Ty Segall is a wicked drummer—let’s get that out of the way right up front! Along with being a brilliant songwriter and amazing guitarist, he wails on the sticks too. He must be some kind of musical prodigy. With the heaviness of the riffage, and his atmospheric vocals aloft on wings of reverb, you just get lost in these songs, but it’s the good kind of lost, like an exploration. Seriously, he’s better than a lot of full-time drummers in bands who play nothing else. He’s all over the drums, makes you do a double-take to make sure it’s not a John Bonham–like drumkit, even takes a couple short solos. Between the three of them, it’s an incredibly physical demonstration. It’s almost more like watching an athletic event than music; the sheer physicality of it, the way it reverberates through you. At a long show (four bands is almost like a mini-festival) watching rock music can start to feel like an endurance contest. But it has its rewards. You get the buzz, the adrenaline blast, you pick up the energy transmitted from the electrifying musicians and their electrified instruments. Psych isn’t the most intellectual genre of music: It’s prone to being monotonous, self-indulgent and overly repetitive, but it can be transcendent. With the exception of one of the bands, this night was one of those kind of transporting, transforming experiences.
Next month, Segall will play the prestigious All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Camber Sands, England. Check out ty-segall.com
for more on this prodigious musician.