Ok, so let’s get the basics out of the way.
Parking: $15 dollars in a lot across the street. Look for the taco truck and the attendant with a red marshaling wand. Or look for street parking. It’s free after 6.
Drinks: Reasonable (I guess). $6 for a can of Miller Lite. $10 for most draft pours. Some nice looking cocktails.
Food: Previously mentioned taco truck across the street. The Teragram Ballroom also serves food from their kitchen, which doesn’t look half-bad. They have a Beyond Meat! Burger for $16.
Setting: Edge of Downtown LA. Skyscrapers in the distance. Halloween night. Zombies walking the streets. Packs of werewolves running free. No trick-or-treaters to be found. Wind whipping up newly fallen leaves and trash around my feet.
The Theater: The Teragram Ballroom is dark. The main area is low lighted, with black walls and floors. The sound booth is in the center of the room, 2/3rds of the way to the back. Facing the stage, there is a bar tucked in the back left corner of the room. There are two other bars in the Teragram, in narrow rooms to the left and right of the entrance. They have cool silvery guitar pick wall-paper. I like the Teragram. It’s a nice mix between amenities and small club grit.
It was Halloween, so there were plenty of people in costume, including employees. One of the cooks wore a Lucha libre mask. Costumes for the bartenders included: a skeleton, a bearded lady, a pineapple head, a slick devil and “the ringmaster after the lion attack.”
Other notable costumes worn by concert attendees included: a variety of scary clowns (but only one Joker, surprisingly), two pickles, three bananas, two easy-to-find Waldos, one middle-aged man hanging perilously to his punk credentials, one Sid and Nancy pair (although Nancy looked more like Joan Jett), one member of Devo, one Shrek with furry pants, one Tyler, the Creator, Igor, plenty of generic ghouls, ghosts and goblins, and a surprising amount of priests. I counted 4 total: two zombie priests and two regular. One of the living priests simply wore a black button-up and a wooden cross the size of his forearm. His costume remains under question. He might have actually been a priest, come to save us heathens.
Opening the night was our host for the evening, Dynasty Handbag, a self-described “middle-aged lesbian” dressed for Halloween as a cross between Michael Jackson, Dr. Frankenstein and Edward Scissorhands. Her performance was a nice mix of terrifyingly gross, abstract and occasionally proletarian-inspired song and comedy—absurd and weird and nice for Halloween. Lot’s of meta-commentary on the pursuit of fame in the soulless hellhole known as Hollywood. Perfect for the crowd. Dynasty Handbag filled in the gaps between sets admirably. I think more bands should consider hosts for their shows.
The first band up was Flaccid Mojo, a DJ duo making music that I can really only interpret as an artistic statement on sensory overload. It’s electronic dance music (I guess), but the bass in their compositions is so overwhelming, it erases any kind of enjoyment. The music literally shook my body, shook the floor, shook the entire room, filled every space between my head and the stage with surging, mind-bending bass frequency.
Flaccid Mojo pushed the volume and presence of those bass frequencies straight to the point of breaking. Some people left the room. Some people plugged their ears. One old guy next to me stared down the sound booth. At the end of their set, a man next to me had a mini seizure, falling to the floor and shaking for a few seconds. I am being serious. He told me he had a concussion three days prior, so I got him some water. I am not a doctor. I saw him again at the end of the night. He was ok.
So, Flaccid Mojo. I don’t think their music is made to be enjoyed. They pair their audio assault with a video screen of quick flashing animations and video clips themed around sex, consumerism and an awareness of their headache-inducing live show. I have never been happier to have earplugs. God help those that didn’t. I think it’s music with a purpose. Not enjoyable to listen to, but enjoyable to think about. It calls attention to the media-saturated lifestyle of the modern world. Just what everyone wanted for Halloween. To be fair, some people were into it, dancing, or nodding along, although by the end of the set it seemed everyone was wiped out. If you get the chance to see Flaccid Mojo, do it, just for the sheer experience of it all.
Second band up was Prettiest Eyes, LA locals and tour mates of Thee Oh Sees. The three-piece band plays high-energy, electrified and occasionally psychedelic post-punk, although they describe their sound as post-industrial. They were Devo-esque at times. No guitar, but that didn’t matter much. The band took the stage as characters from El Chavo Del Ocho, the Mexican television sitcom, barrel and all. The synths had a watery disruptive quality to them that soared, dive-bombed and groaned over the driving drums and bass. At one point, a band of bearded, bass-playing cowboys joined them on stage for a song. The pickle costume people (a couple) were digging the sound, high-fiving each other rapidly between songs. Some light moshing broke out before the end. I could see Prettiest Eyes being, or becoming, someone’s favorite band. It was a good performance.
After Prettiest Eyes finished, Thee Oh Sees began to set up their own equipment. There was a DIY ethos running through the entire show. Besides the two stage hands, one dressed as LL Cool J (red Kangol hat was a dead giveaway), the other dressed as a cockroach (obviously a Kafka fan), it was the bands setting up and tearing down the stage. By the time Thee Oh Sees took the stage the room was packed. The bass player came out in full Ghostbusters costume.
As Thee Oh Sees launched into their first song of the night, “I Come from the Mountain,” the crowd began moshing and crowd surfing with zeal. In fact, the whole front section went kind of nuts, all jumping up and down – zombies, people, hotdogs, Waldo, pickles, and more. Beer started flying. One guest even brought some glow in the dark balloons, which they inflated on the edge of the pit before knocking them out over the surge of the crowd.
The overall sound of Thee Oh Sees is a sludge-tinted version of driving lo-fi rock, with extended forays into psychedelia and prog, and the occasional krautrock inflections. Often times the songs start off with high energy riffing, before melting into extended jams, with plenty of slick guitar playing throughout. Sometimes, like on the penultimate song “C,” which has a groovy and memorable synth and guitar line, Thee Oh Sees dive straight into their proggy, psychedelic chops.
There is a dark, impish humor in some of their songs, such as squeaky toy intro to “The Daily Heavy,” the first track off their latest album Face Stabber. The band had incredible dynamic control, whipping the crowd up or bringing them down at will. This was most notable on the crowd-favorite “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster.” Thee Oh Sees can go at a lightning quick, frenetic tempo, or slow things down to a thoughtful, lilting pace, like in their psychedelic jam “Sticky Hulks,” which was placed thoughtfully in the middle of their set.
By the third track, I had to throw myself into the mosh, losing track of what was being played and for how long. Being smashed into by a girl in a hot dog costume will do that to a person. It was hard to resist. The guitar in each song was like a glass buzzsaw, a razor blade of action, a siren call for everything and everyone to get moving. It moaned, it groaned, it brooded and seethed, and more than anything, it exploded into life, song after song. The energy was infectious. The frenzy nearly reached all the way back to the sound booth on a few occasions.
Lead singer and guitarist John Dwyer lit a cigarette on stage towards the last third of the show, and next thing you know people in the crowd were lighting up joints or cigarettes. There was no stopping that train from rolling. Most of the songs came off Thee Oh Sees’ new album Face Stabber, as well as other recent albums like Orc and Smote Reverser. Songs included “The Dream,” “Sentient Oona,” and “Animated Violence.” The band even brought out a pair of saxophonists on stage for their song “Henchlock,” a psychedelic jam with jumpy electric piano and guitar chord stabs.
In all, Thee Oh Sees played a nearly 2-hr set, finishing the night with an extended jam of their song “Encrypted Bounce.” The jam enabled a procession of stage divers to get up on stage. One guy in a cow suit was carried almost all the way back to the sound booth, only to be unceremoniously dumped onto the hard, concrete floor. Had to hurt. One guy in a Canadian Flag shirt and Boston Red Sox cap got on stage and started playing a tambourine he came across.
The band finished without an encore, but it wasn’t needed. It was past one in the morning when things finished up. The show had run its proper course, and everyone was more than satisfied. The mixture of musicianship, energy and unique circumstances (being Halloween night) made it a show that will stick in my mind for long after.
Thee Oh Sees are a rock band from San Francisco, CA, now based in Los Angeles, CA. Members include: John Dwyer (vocals, guitar, keyboards). Tomas Dolan (keyboards), Tim Hellman (bass), Dan Rincon (drums), and Paul Quattrone (drums).