Okay, okay — I get it. I’ve been listening to the music of Thee Oh Sees, off and on, for six or seven years now, and every album has been hailed by friends as being the next best thing since their last. I’m always fairly ambivalent and don’t get the appeal.
“See them live,” say my friends. “That’s the real deal.”
I’ve been mostly disinclined, because if I don’t like an album I streamed for free, why in God’s name would I pay $15 and stand on a concrete floor to hear them play those same songs? Again, I get it now. Thee Oh Sees’ Live In San Francisco had me pretty much convinced as to the band’s live effectiveness with its four sides of intense rock ‘n’ roll, but then there’s a DVD which comes with the set, and you watch the band, and it’s another level of intensity.
The first thing you hear on Live In San Francisco is guitar feedback and the words, “Make sure that guitar is good and loud. Don’t be scared.” A brief cymbal roll follows, and we’re off to the races. Taking that opener, “I Come From the Mountain,” and the way the double drum sets pummel you while John Dwyer’s guitar just shreds your nerves, and it’s impossible not to wonder, “Well, hell. If that’s how they start the show, where’s it going from there?”
It goes here: pure, white-hot intensity all the way through to the end, until you reach the epic, spanning-an-entire-side way-out, holy-shitness of “Contraption.” When it was over, I felt like I needed a drink and a cigarette. Basically, I now feel like a an absolute fool for having not just slept on Thee Oh Sees for so long, but outright dismissing them. Don’t make my mistake.
The “mastered at 45 rpm for maximum sound quality” has always seemed more hype than anything else. It’s not like most of these albums were ever recorded with anything near analog, so what’s the point of improving a digital signal that’s been converted to analog? Plus, it just always seemed more like an album that was a tad too long for a standard LP, but nobody wants to put out a 12-inch and a 7-inch (or worse, a double LP with an etched side D), so you master it at 45 to stretch it.
In this case, Thee Oh Sees’ Live In San Francisco is bigger than any live album has any right to sound. Live LPs usually suffer somewhere — the vocals sound thin, the guitars get lost somewhere, or the bass and drums sound tinny. In no way does Live In San Francisco suffer from any of those issues. It’s big, bombastic, and leaps out of your speakers. “Toe Cutter Thumb Buster” absolutely explodes. Thee Oh Sees need to take Chris Woodhouse — who mixed the album, as well as helping record it — out for a big steak dinner; then get him very happily drunk on good liquor. He deserves it, as well as a tremendous high-five.
Gorgeous minimal design on the gatefold jacket, along with the lustrous black and white photos, make for a great-looking package. The heavyweight vinyl is pretty solid, as well.
There’s a download code included, along with the full-length concert DVD, which looks just as amazing as the record sounds. It’s like the album art is alive and moving. Label pre-orders also receive ultra clear vinyl and a flexi with a new song.
“Live In San Francisco” can be purchased from Castle Face Records.