Anarcho Surf: Osees at 1720
Words by: Danny Ryan
Black and White Photos by: Erika Reinsel
Color Photos by: Manuel Arredondo
Osees’ recent show at 1720 Warehouse embodied the rowdier side of California’s alternative music scene in its purest form. Their signature mixture of garage rock, prog-rock, surf music, punk, and noise rock is brilliantly crafted to contrast between rapidly-paced walls of sound that fill the venue with breaks of blissful psychedelia to provide moments of rest from the chaos. The sold out evening had the energy ramped up to 11 the entire show with no signs of slowing down throughout, even with the Osees’ headlining set being nearly an hour and 40 minutes long. Osees manage to be one of the most experimental live performers to grace the stage, while never sacrificing their loud in-your-face rock n’ roll energy to explore these different sounds. Although 1720 Warehouse was transformed into a rambunctious party for the evening, Osees provide this riotous atmosphere with the avant-garde nature of a fine art piece and blend these two spirits into an absolutely incomparable experience.
The opener of the evening was Zig Zags, a garage punk band that bordered on thrash metal at times with their speedy guitar riffs, sludge-y breakdowns, group vocals, and lo-fi sound. Frontman and lead guitarist Jed Maheu sings in a harsh and raspy way resembling early James Hetfeld of Metallica at times. Even with their thrash metal influence, the band is very rock n roll with their catchy melodies during each chorus. This straight-forward balls-to-the-wall heavy, fast sound contrasted perfectly with the more experimental nature of Osees, but their noise-y garage rock sound crossed over perfectly to create many new fans in the audience that night.
Osees approached the stage of 1720 with a roaring crowd ready to crowdsurf and feverly pogo as the band thanked Zig Zags and the restless fans before breaking into the opening track “Funeral Solution” from their newest album A Foul Form. The song is one of their heaviest, with its fast anarcho-punk instrumentals and frontman John Dwyer’s Rudimentary Peni-esque vocals that periodically stop at moments when the signature guitar riff takes over. The song feels as if it’s instantly paused at these moments, creating tension in the listener as they wait for the chaos of the other instrumentals to fill the room and inspiring them to slam in all directions surrounding them. It’s incredibly rare to see an artist receive this wild of a reaction when a new track is played as the first in a set, but Osees’ fans are eager to hear new material at every opportunity even with the endless amount of music that the band has released over the years.
Osees have one of the most complex and expansive discographies of any artist spanning over the course of 3 decades with their 25 albums, multiple lineup changes, and 7 name changes. While this history may come off as convoluted to an outsider, the constant changes in the band has allowed them to experiment with a wider array of genres throughout their career than most artists are able to allow themselves. Frontman John Dwyer has been the only consistent member throughout Osees’ discography, providing a structure to the band that allows them to explore as many influences as possible with laser-focused vision. Dwyer is essentially a Trent Reznor of garage rock in this way, and it really is unbelievable how he is able to re-invent the same band so many times so drastically while keeping its same integral character.
It’s mind-blowing how frontman John Dwyer is able to switch between vocal styles as he also fiercely plays guitar and synth interchangeably. He’s able to transition between high-pitched punk screams during the noisey and faster segments into almost doo-wop-esque melodies during the more surf or psychedelic influenced breaks in their set in a way that blends flawlessly into the constantly shifting directions of noise being delivered. He’s an absolute madman in the way that he commands the energy of the crowd to match each song that’s being played. Each Osees song has an unrivaled amount of character behind it, and Dwyer makes sure that the entire room matches that character.
Another absolutely unbelievable aspect of the Osees’ current live sets is that they are currently performing with 2 drummers, Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone, and both are incredible at providing an enormous and noise-y sound that fills the room while never overpowering one another in volume. The prog-rock influenced songs of the set benefited massively from having 2 drummers, with multiple layers added to each track between their cooperation together. Current bassist Tim Hellman shakes the room with how heavy he performs, especially during more transitional breaks of the set and during the more psychedelic jams. Although John Dwyer may be the only consistent member of Osees, the current lineup knows how to feed off of each others’ energy in the loudest way possible to bring Osees’ signature style to life.
Most of the material that Osees selected to play this show came from their 2010’s-2020’s discography rather than their older material. As artists that are constantly progressing and moving forward in the different territories that they are treading, it’s much more natural for them to perform favorites from their more recent albums and it would almost feel out of place for them to perform earlier classics. Osees are not the same band that they were in the 00’s, and they make this clear to their fans with the amount of name changes that the band has gone through. No matter how many iconic albums Osees have released, they reject the content nature that most rock bands fall into and are always seeking new ways to build upon their legacy.
The crowd never stopped moving throughout the set, regardless of the style of music being played or how closely packed they were into the 1720 Warehouse. Even during slower prog-influenced segments, people were still dancing and slamming slowly in preparation to pogo around in all directions as soon as a faster and more punk-influenced track was played. With how vast their discography is, it’s no surprise that there were fans of all different eras with each track providing the same amount of energetic feedback. It would be near-impossible to pin-point a song that had the wildest crowd reaction, as it was apparent that everybody in the room was simply ecstatic to be involved in experiencing such a special performance so up-close and personal. With the mountainous journey that Osees have traveled throughout their career, it’s incredible to see their fans follow alongside them with undivided faith in the direction they are heading.
The hour and 40 minute set was reaching a close as Osees broke into the last track of the evening, “C”, a synth-heavy psychedelic track that is noticeably more tame and atmospheric than the rest of the songs played that night. Dwyer performs with a higher-pitch and more poppy vocals on this track compared to their heavier material, seamlessly harmonizing with the synths that he plays while the other members indulge in a jam session behind him. While the track isn’t as loud or heavy as the other songs that were performed, the energy in the room remained high although it was clear that the night was winding down to a close. It was a beautiful closer to their set, and the distinct contrast of energy marked the end of an intense and unparalleled performance.
Osees’ legacy cannot be overstated in any way with the massive influence they’ve had on current garage rock and alternative scenes, as well as in their boldness in constantly innovating and reinventing themselves in such an extreme way that is not seen in many artists. Even if you were never involved in the garage rock and noisey surf punk that has defined California’s alternative music scene for the past 20 years or so, you owe it yourself to see where the impact of these sounds all started live and in-person surrounded by sweaty bodies and lively passionate dancing all around you. Osees are truly a one-of-a-kind band in nearly every aspect, and their live shows embody their signature uniqueness to the fullest degree imaginable.