Osees has been productive this year, releasing their new album Protean Threat in September, followed by a remix album, Panther Rotate, released earlier this month. On Saturday, the band performed live at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, feeding people a mixture of new and old.
Amidst a backyard setup, the guys looked characteristically casual and cool. Following a sublime track like “Rogue Planet” from Mutilator Defeated at Last is a tough job, but the live debut of “I Can’t Pay You To Disappear” held its own. It’s been around for a while, though Osees hadn’t pulled the track out of their “song sack” for a live performance. The song featured a continuous, flowing rhythm that left room for the fun stuff: intergalactic, alien-esque production noises and drum upbeats, to name a couple unexpected sonic kinks.
With Osees, it’s all about finding the easter eggs, and “Opposition” contains a big one: a warped guitar riff at the end, played by frontman John Dwyer, giving what would be a classic garage rock track more of a distinct, spaced-out feel. The band brought back quite a few rarities; along with “Opposition,” “Heavy Doctor” hasn’t seen a live crowd in nearly a decade, and it was an ecstatic one. Dwyer let loose on vocals, having a bit of fun with the echoed line, “Witness the eye-eye-eye-eye….,” and riffing off psychedelic guitar bits in between the verses.
“Gholü” was filled with rage, taking the sonic form of blood and gore. “Withered Hand” took its time, starting off slow on percussion and production before kicking into a fast electronic rhythm with faded vocals. Dwyer squeezes in a lightning-speed guitar solo between choruses, bringing heat to the fast—albeit catchy—tune. Another unplayed Dog Poison track, “Voice In The Mirror,” made its live debut, and it’s puzzling why it hadn’t been incorporated into a set list before. The electro, disgruntled sound sets the track apart in sonic nature; echoing “oohs!” are scattered throughout, and the sound builds on itself as the song nears the end. “Voice In The Mirror” is layered and dynamic, setting it apart from some of the more madness-driven, impulsive songs on the set list.
“Tunnel Time” is indie-psych-punk at its core. Layered vocals underscore bending, twisted guitar riffs that made the whole performance nearly lucid, especially as it flowed smoothly into “Gelatinous Cube.” Dwyer’s voice is truly dynamic, as it takes on the form of a grunge-rocker or, in this case, an airy surf punk; the vocalist’s “ah, ah, ah-ah, ah” line repeated throughout the track as a necessary accessory.
“Lupine Ossuary” screamed acid rock, with distorted guitars and wavering, far-off vocals. The guitar riffs came alive, almost animalistic in sound, over a steady, unchanging drum beat. Dwyer pulled out a flute and a recorder for “Dead Medic,” two instruments that when played at the same time, by the same mouth, produce a high-pitched, whining sort of whistle. He slammed against the guitar strings to produce a metal-banging sound effect, distorted by production and layered unevenly atop screeching static and bumping drums.
A separate set list followed, made up of covers of Black Flag, Liket Lever and Faust songs. Dwyer’s guitar solo on “Jealous Again” was immaculate, while his mocking vocals on “Wasted” provide the short song with a fun, careless vibe. It carries tirelessly into “Fix Me,” before the band transitions into Liket Lever with “Levande begravd.” Last on the cover lineup is a Faust cover, titled “J’ai Mal Aux Dents.” It sounded shockingly similar to the original, a French, electro dime from the early ’70s. The electric guitar and steady bass line gave it more of a rock flair, making the cover feel characteristically Osees.
There’s a quality to Osees that feels inexplicably nostalgic for a time and place now past. Luckily, the band continues to produce work that lives to defy all radio expectations, keeping alive the sound of the ’90s in an effortlessly modern way.
Photo Credit: Mauricio Alvarado