Logan City Eskimo Joe

Review: Osees @ Princess Theatre (Brisbane)

Osees played Princess Theatre (Brisbane) 3 February, 2023.
Harry is a musician, producer, and visual artist, making psych pop and glitch art under the name Elder Children.

On the hottest day of a sweltering week, the band formerly known as Thee Oh Sees gifted Brisbane a nuclear bomb.

Like a fire sale at an army supply store, John Dwyer and his Osees reigned a barrage of sweat grenades over the Princess Theatre's patrons (3 February).

Though arriving to the band's opening notes felt like waltzing into a landmine, it was considerably cooler inside the venue than out, where sopping streets dragged the rancid afterbirth of the day's 36-degree labour.

In appropriately gory fashion, the muscular 'Animated Violence' caved one's face in with a cartoon anvil, the exalted yell of conquering gladiators – ". . . and woe is warrior, cracking armour. Swollen belly upon dismal vista. Who is the warrior?"

Guitar licks sliced the air like duelling swords of lightning, carving out a corridor for ensuing track 'The Static God;. "I'm leaning in, into the whip – does it satisfy me?" The answer in the thronging mosh was an obvious yes, with a shared passion for sadomasochism fit to send Sigmund Freud spasming in his grave.

'The Static God' is the opener of 2017's 'Orc', the first Osees record to feature all but one of the band's current line-up, including Ty Segall collaborator Tim Hellman on bass. Other members include drummers Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone, with Quattrone being known for his compositions as one half of the superbly cool, sample-heavy Warm Drag. Sleeper cell activate – listen to Warm Drag now.

Good rock drummers have always been coveted creatures, and John Dwyer is one of the few to poach not one, but two, of these exotic beasts. Watching Rincon and Quattrone exchange fills and flawlessly swap parts over up-tempo beats is one of the most mesmerising experiences one could witness.

The pair move elementally, at times like water and others like fire and stone, the only constant being their relentless tightrope ballet over an undying pulse.

The imaginary seam between 2011's classic 'The Dream' and chew toy-core 'The Daily Heavy' thoroughly blurred the line between discrete songs and a continuous matrix of rhythm.

Swimming somewhere in this miscellaneous soup there was a brief, synth-led, kraut-groovy portion which I couldn't identify. Word has it that Dwyer and co. have already christened his brand-new Discount Mirrors recording studio with a fresh Osees record. Could this unidentified snippet have been a glimpse of what's to come?

While the psych revival movement has heavy-hitting influences spanning dozens of groups, the importance of Osees' mark on the 2010s cannot be overstated.

Australia's own King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard owe troves to Osees, from their prolific record-pumping philosophy to mic-in-mouth screams, to infusing surf-punk guitars with krautrock beats, to even the release of Gizzard's breakout 'I'm In Your Mind Fuzz' album on John Dwyer's own Castle Face Records.

This influence is seldom clearer than on tracks like 2009's 'Tidal Wave'. Fans of 'Breaking Bad' may recall the episode in which Gus Fring poisons over a dozen poolside cartel warlords, a scene befittingly set to Osees' 'Tidal Wave'. This righteously acidic energy pervaded the song's performance, a tongue-meltingly sour lollypop on which the crowd did suck.

Another oft-borrowed musical device popularised by John Dwyer is the gradual sweeping of a wah pedal over entire sections of tracks, giving passages an oceanic sense of expansion and contraction. 'I Come From The Mountain', opener of 2013'S 'Floating Coffin', made heavy use of this technique, sending power-driven riff quakes quivering through the air.

In Dwyer's closet interview with the Criterion Collection, he listed such films as 'Naked Lunch', 'Repo Man', and 'Night Of The Living Dead' as personal favourites. The influence of these cinematic works is palpable in his music, which drips with garish colours and textures not unlike such sickly-surreal flicks.

While Osees are widely known for their instrumental strengths, it's not often broadcast that Dwyer is an ingenious lyricist. Though the guitar is his primary paintbrush, Dwyer's words lend exquisite and often abstract margins to landscapes such as 'Nite Expo'.

"Peel back your face and make haste for the underground crawl space. Fill up on rubber smoke, hold it, then choke – lay back, and let go."

Ripped from 2017's classic 'Orc', 'Nite Expo' exemplifies the band's aesthetic dynamism, showcasing their proclivity for fusing sinister imagery with accessible krautrock beats. Live, the track bounced with unmatched vigour, a groove so addictive it left one scratching at the arms.

'Nite Expo' also brilliantly showcased Dwyer's chemistry with keyboardist and guitarist Tomas Dolas, known for his recording project Mr. Elevator. But the alchemy of the ensemble burned brightest with 'Sticky Hulks'.

The slowest track of the set and a tried-and-true favourite, 'Sticky Hulks' heaved with the psychedelic magnitude of a visionary's tale – ". . . and the ticking of the clock, and the ringing of the stocks, are relics of our lives. Our love flows on endlessly, our love is pure and free – a vast and depthless sea."

The hypnotic lull of 'Sticky Hulks' quickly mutated into their heaviest material yet, with Osees pulling out a four-song assault from 2022's 'A Foul Form'. And most foul it was, with guitars as brittle, dry, and ghastly as the record's menacing subject matter.

"Why must you exterminate, simply with the wish to die? Living deadly endless hate, you left morality behind. A foul form."

With the 'new material' portion of the set well underway, Osees took a quick detour through 2015's 'Rogue Planet' from 'Mutilator Defeated At Last'. This cemented the punk path for three tunes from 2020's 'Protean Threat'.

The band's 23rd full-length release, 'Protean Threat' is arguably their most unique. Boasting an intoxicating brew of motorik, avant-punk and other pretentious adjectives, the record bleeds with radioactive fervour.

As the title of their 2019 album 'Face Stabber' might suggest, Osees have selectively bred the most moreish strain of blunt force trauma known to humankind. 'Terminal Jape' illuminated this sick gift, incessantly thrusting itself into the audience like a diseased Cronenberg pleasure knife.

Picture this: Absorbed by a fermenting meat vortex, you find yourself standing alone in a field of ice and fog. On the frosty horizon a light beam burgeons, spreading to completely engulf your vision. "Bruh," you whisper, as you are dragged back to the physical world, smacked in the skull for the second time by a crowd surfer's stray boot. This is the best night of your life.

On that fateful night at Princess Theatre, Osees generously dished up 23 throbbing tunes, with tracks such as closing epic 'C' pushing well into the ten-minute territory.

Over nearly three decades and through countless line-up changes, John Dwyer has sculpted a band, reluctantly a brand, that remains completely free from the imposition of corporate overlords. It's true that this is punk, this is krautrock, this is hardcore.

This music is many things, but though Osees can be categorised, they cannot be caged. There are no boundaries to this band, other than the invisible line where 'cool' ends and 'radio-fodder suck fest' begins. These are not pop songs – these are parasitic wasps, burrowed and buzzing in the ears of dazed and confused audiences for weeks to come.

To witness Osees live is to experience a brutal beating by hammer-wielding hulks led by a mad jester, heralding the scum of modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah with revelrous filth. It is also to walk away with a churning urge for more.

To those who are only dipping your toes in Osees, I advise you to dive in – the water is boiling.

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