Thee Oh Sees Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, November 23

Thee Oh Sees Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, November 23
Photo: Shane Parent
There's something surreal about seeing a band like Thee Oh Sees in a venue like the Danforth Music Hall, on a school night, with the show ending well before midnight. There was artsy lighting, pillars, decent sound, and a higher ticket price in addition to clear sightlines, lots of standing room, and minimal moshing (until the encore, anyway). Barely anyone sweated, and only the tiniest miasma of beer farts hung in the air. Although the band — led by the eternally youthful and brilliant John Dwyer — gave 'er mightily as always, it was almost… civilized. As anyone who has previously seen the legendary Bay area psych rockers knows, this adjective is not usually one that applies. It was weird.

Then again, this version of Thee Oh Sees is a different beast — one that rose from the ashes after a hilariously brief hiatus at the tail end of 2013. Earlier this year, the inexhaustible Dwyer came out with a spacey solo album under a new moniker, Damaged Bug, and in April, the band released their 13th studio album, Drop, as well as a new trimmed-down touring lineup. Gone were keyboardist/singer Brigid Dawson, longtime bassist Petey Dammit and drummer Mike Shoun (although they still contribute to recordings). Dwyer has now backed himself with a new live rhythm section: Timothy Hellman on bass and Nick Murray on drums.

The sparseness of the new lineup has its perks. Dwyer's frenetic guitar freakouts are even more front and center now, and on songs like "The Dream" from 2011's Carrion Crawler/The Dream, it's easier than ever to get completely lost in his outta-sight astral noodling. On the downside, though, I found myself really missing Dawson's sweetly spooky harmonies, particularly on the showstopper from 2012's Floating Coffin record, "Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster." Also, a couple false starts betrayed the newness of the ensemble — Murray, who bears a passing resemblance to a Dazed and Confused-era Wiley Wiggins — appeared visibly frustrated early on with what appeared to be a kick drum-based misadventure. Still, it's Thee fucking Oh Sees and John Dwyer, right? Even at their roughest, the band sounded better than most other acts on a good day. And when they were good, they were really good, with a wild-as-hell rendition of Drop's "Encrypted Bounce (A Queer Sound)" and encore "Carrion Crawler" as particular standouts. Bottom line: growing pains and transition aside, when it comes to Thee Oh Sees, I'll take whatever incarnation I can get.

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