Live music review: Oh Sees reigned at top curated music festival LEVITATION

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All photos: Mike Manewitz

Our lede may be a bit misleading or at the least, confusing to fans who are aware Oh Sees did not play a “headlining” stage at LEVITATION music  festival last month. Instead, the Los Angeles-based garage psych/punk outfit helmed by John Dwyer sold-out back to back nights at Barracuda (April 27-28) then added a show at Hotel Vegas billed as the official LEVITATION after party benefiting the Austin Children’s Shelter/ SAFE. That show also sold out hours before the performance. Simply put, Dwyer and company reigned over the festival like post-punk kings.

Festival founders,  The Black Angels performed a headlining show at Stubb’s BBQ Sunday that was more than entertaining. The mind-bending Mustaciho Light Show that accompanies each TBA performance was in full effect. UK greats Slowdive delivered a fantastic headlining show to a packed Stubb’s the previous evening  and a rare live appearance by metal-lords, Electric Wizard destroyed on the largest stage (Stubb’s) of LEVITATION over the four-day event, but no act dominated the psych-rock festival like the Oh Sees did. While the group is listed as active from 1997, the side-project of Dwyer (Coachwhips) really began performing as The Ohsees (there have been a number of moniker iterations over the years) in 2006. Eleven years later Dwyer’s outlet for releasing experimental sounds including post-punk and noise rock element has become his most successful musical enterprise. 

Similar to The Black Angels in that Oh Sees have a trademark sound. TBA deals in neo-psych music. Oh Sees are harder to pigeonhole into a genre. Dwyer has developed at signature sound over the past decade marked by dual drum kits that primarily play in sync, providing a percussive texture that drives the Oh Sees machine. But it’s Dwyer’s astounding guitar work that gives the music its tantalizing flavor. Part punk, part psych-rock but all rock n roll, it’s an acquired taste that can quickly become an obsession as we found ourselves hitting each and every performance by the group during the festival. 

It’s the extended jams that set Oh Sees apart from their contemporaries. What punk outfit do you know of that plays fifteen minute songs that drive fans into a crowd-surfing frenzy? Yeah, that what we thought. No act but these guys do it the way they do. If you have the opportunity to catch them live. Do it. Here’s their upcoming tour schedule. We’d seriously consider going on Oh Sees tour if work didn’t keep us in Austin full-time. 

It’s clear that LEVITATION who moved their festival to eight venues (most in Red River Cultural District) from the logistical nightmare that was Carson Creek Ranch in 2016 after a one-year hiatus, books one of the most unique festival lineups in the country. Beyond psych-rock music, there was experimental electronica, Latin music, folk, post-punk and lo-fi pop. We challenge you to find a more diverse and original lineup anywhere in the U.S. this year. You won’t. 

Side notes

D.C. post-punk act The Make-Up delivered one of the more entertaining sets of the festival. He spent the majority of the time performing on top of fans at Cheer-Up Charlie’s (see photo). We also caught frontman Ian Sevonius’ side-project ESCAPE-ISM at Beerland with 365 Things favorites, Kay Odyssey. We recommend seeing all three acts live. 

LEVITATION Latin acts were impressive this year. There were standout sets by South Americans; Boogarins, Veuleveteloca, Follackzoid. We’re intrigued and now scouring streaming sites for similar acts. A Spanish venue-owner told us the music coming out of South America currently is among the most exciting a couple years ago at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona. He was correct. Rock music from below the equator is sizzling hot. 

Lo-fi pop wonder Ariel Pink turned in a sold-out performance at Empire Garage that saw fans crowd-surfing to downbeat songs by the notoriously moody frontman, Ariel Rosenberg. While we enjoyed his upbeat songs, the slower, circus-like songs left us puzzled. There were also frequent vocal mic issues that appeared to incense Rosenberg who thankfully made it through the set without having an aneurism. In any case, we don’t see what Pitchfork sees but it’s clear the group has a loyal following and their shows are fun.