Except for the masks and vax passports, it seemed like old times at Neumos Sunday night. A sold-out show headlined by Osees, the LA rock juggernaut led by heavily tatted workaholic John Dwyer, garbed in his trademark form-fitting tanktop and shorts, going full-on scorched earth from the get-go? Hell yeah, bring it on! (Whoever played old middle-of-the-road radio rock staples over the PA before the set deserves the Red Herring Award.) A mosh pit formed in the club's underage section within a nanosecond of the first song, in case you were wondering about social-distancing protocols. Also, Osees began playing eight minutes before the scheduled 10:15 pm official start time. And their merch table weighed a ton.
Back in the '80s, future Matador Records co-owner Gerard Cosloy wrote in his fanzine Conflict (paraphrasing here), “Being able to rock is about as impressive as knowing how to tie your shoelaces.” While there's some truth to that, Osees are basically tying their shoes while doing cartwheels... with their hair on fire. As I noted in a 2019 feature on the band in these pages, “Oh Sees [as they were known then] may not be doing anything original, [but] they are imbuing familiar moves with a conviction that signals music is a life-or-death matter. Thanks to Dwyer's doggedness and prodigious songwriting nous, Oh Sees have become paradigmatic 21st-century rockers—great synthesizers and energizers of rock's multifarious modes. Effortlessly diverse and dynamic, their songs pour out of Dwyer like the sweat he excretes during their galvanizing concerts.” Of which this was yet another.
With their two drummers set up front and center (as they should be), Osees locked into fast-twitch, careening garage-psych mode with an urgency and pent-up aggression that obliterated all memories of quarantine blahs. Osees maintained that furious car-chase-scene tempo and tension for 90 minutes with few deviations, peppered generously by Dwyer's falsetto "woo"s and stabbing guitar causticity and eight-limbed rhythmic locomotion from Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon. Bassist Tim Hellman and keyboardist Tomas Dolas were fantastic, too, subliminally coloring the bullet train as it moved frantically from station to station, the songs often stopping with breathtaking abruptness. The breakneck chugger “The Daily Heavy” even had the woman taking tickets and checking IDs dancing in her chair.
While I could've used more of Osees' weirder, proggier material, I understand the need to simply blow off steam. But tunes like “Gholü,” with its twisted, Beefheartian rhythms and insane guitar tones, and the epic space-rock joint with Dwyer adding his two cents of keyboard improv to Dolas's synth madness lent some variety to the set. And ending the night with a monstrous, metallic prog jam that made me think of Golden Earring and Sugarloaf was a nice surprise. But the biggest surprise was seeing a 30ish dude sleeping upstairs, his mask down at his neck. Where are the bouncers when you need 'em?