Oh Sees bring massive tour to Le National, squeaky toys and all

What better way to stave off the increasingly colder weather for a night than with not one, but two fiery experimental rock sets? Le National was treated to an evening of heat on Oct. 15th, as long-running garage punk outfit Oh Sees (formerly Thee Oh Sees) brought their colossal 2019 tour to town. A crowd made up of both newcomers and die-hard Oh Sees followers transformed into a sea of moshers and crowdsurfers amid an explosion of synths and thunderous bass – enough to test the boundaries of your favourite concert earplugs.

Opener Prettiest Eyes set the tone for the night as concertgoers filtered in. The relatively sparse crowd filled out rapidly as soon as the LA-based post-industrial group kicked off a set full of stage work from drummer and vocalist Pachy García, hair flips from keyboardist Paco Casanova, and bass acrobatics from Marcos Rodríguez. Their set was tight, fast-paced and energetic. During “Strange Distance”, García stood up above his drumkit, lit up by a spotlight on an otherwise darkened stage, and delivered the opening lines of the thrumming track with vampiric flair. “It Cost’s to Be Austere” saw Rodríguez demonstrating the versatility of the bass, first thrashing out riffs by himself, then thrusting the bass into the audience for some free-form noise and even laying it on García’s kit to be drummed on. By the time they left the stage, the crowd was loud, lively, and looking forward to the arrival of the headlining act. 

Although initially hampered by persistent sound issues (during which they provided a lovely bluesy shuffle for the sound techs to scramble to), Oh Sees did not waste any time delivering their signature blend of garage punk, experimental sound, psych rock, and custom weirdness to the crowd. Opening the set with “I Come From the Mountain”, the group made a vivid sonic and visual impression. Frontman John Dwyer led the group with precision and unrelenting frenetic energy, pulling riffs out of his guitar (a clear ECG with Dungeons & Dragons-inspired knobs, no less) with the fluidity of a lifelong performer. Oh Sees has existed in some form for decades. The current iteration featuring dual drummers Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone brings both the noise and the creative musicianship to the forefront. Bassist Tim Hellman kept the thunderous lines coming, and Tomas Dolas provided ample outer-space vibes on keys. 

The crowd – seemingly entirely made up of crowdsurfers at times – was taken on a lively journey throughout Oh Sees’ extensive catalogue, with special attention paid to tracks off their latest album Face Stabber. “The Daily Heavy” gave Dwyer a chance to show off his skill vocally, on the guitar, and with the liberal use of squeaky toy that kicks off the track; “Nite Expo” switched up the groove, but lost none of the energy. Rincon and Quattrone were mesmerizing to watch, playing many segments in perfect unison at the front of the stage (and producing an incredible level of sound – having two drummers is serious fun). 

It’s clear that Dwyer’s passion for experimentation and variety is still going strong, and audiences are still more than receptive to his punk-propelled brand of sonic whimsy. From the plethora of pedals and effects on display, to the aforementioned squeaky toy, to an extended solo on an aerophone, it was an exercise in toeing the line between humour and deep, pulsing darkness – aggression meets playfulness.

Oh Sees and Prettiest Eyes will continue their tour south of the border, but at the end of the night Dwyer promised that he’s bringing his show back to Montreal in 11 months. Until then, cue up Face Stabber, and get your crowdsurfing moves ready. 

Renita Bangert is the host of 5 Songs With…, the talk show that’s part music history, part trivia, and part play-along mystery. Tune in each week to listen to 5 different songs and explore the unexpected ways they connect. Tuesdays at 3PM EST, on CJLO 1690AM!