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Live at the Empty Bottle: Ty Segall / Esben and the Witch

By Arts & Culture, Uncategorized

Text by Brandon Goei, Staff Writer
Photos by Brandon Kosters, Editor in Chief

Ty Segall at the Empty Bottle
March 14, 2011

It’s rumored that when Carlos Santana played Woodstock in 1969, he was so deep into a mescal trip his guitar transformed into a giant snake onstage. He believed that he had to tame the wild nature of his axe to churn out the soaring solos that are now the trademark of his career.

I’d like to think Ty Segall is struck with the opposite circumstance. Not that Segall was about to turn into a snake onstage, but it was clear that he was the kicking, screaming tempest whose power his guitar had to harness into coherency.

In front of a sold-out crowd at the Empty Bottle on March 14th, Segall launched into song after song, linking crunchy distortion with yowling choruses. Every blazing solo and each seething verse had the hum of erratic energy behind it. And though everyone in the audience was shoulder-to-shoulder and swimming in a sea of other peoples’ expended breath, the tension in the room was non-existent; everyone was too engrossed in the musical moment.

Onstage, Segall was accompanied by three other bandmates, whose presence was best described as a swaggering mass of mop-headed hipsters once the music started. Each song launched with a sizable bang and a steady rhythm, but from there it seemed that the mission of the show was to steadily spiral out of control and into blissful oblivion.

It became apparent that the songs were more and more fractured the further into the set they were with later pieces often including progressive time signatures and shape-shifting timbres. The band demonstrated their ability to create a dynamic atmosphere, ranging from loud to weird and everything in between.

The loudness and weirdness was all for the better—any restless energy that was present, both onstage and in the crowd, was immediately released into the Monday night air, and what ensued was a celebration of all things fuzzy, raucous and cathartic about music.

Esben and the Witch at the Empty Bottle
March 10, 2011

You could cut the sonic tension in the air with a knife. Esben and the Witch’s aesthetic seemed to drip from the walls at the Empty Bottle on March 10th, and that aesthetic was, in a word: heavy. Or dreamy. Or chaotic. Or all of the above.

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But really, of all the adjectives one might pick to describe Esben, the one that seems to stand out as most popular is “gothic”. The reasons for this adjective were immediately recognizable as the band started their late-night set— thick and syrupy thumps of bass guitar were coupled with the jittering tribal thrust of a superhuman drum machine.

Soon the atmospherics arose in the form of gently dissonant guitars and achingly slow reverb. The omnipresent echoes of lead singer Rachel Davies’ pierced the ethereal noise wall time and again, slapping back and forth between the multiple instruments of fellow bandmates Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher. This is “gothic” in the old-school ‘80s flavor— equal parts Bauhaus and Cocteau Twins, with a dash of Siouxsie Sioux, garnished with a young Nick Cave.

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And even though that tag comes with a good bit of pride and legacy, it also carries a few shortcomings, namely a tendency towards contrived one-sidedness. This was the issue with Esben’s performance, it was too much of a good thing. And although the atmosphere amplified into skillfully controlled chaos whenever all three members took turns beating a drum center stage, it was an atmosphere that lacked texture and true substance after the first twenty or so floor tom thwacks.

So, should you go see Esben and the Witch live? Sure. If anything, it’s an experience in itself to watch all the greying goths of your town creep out to witness someone attempting to recreate their glory days. But if you stay and pay attention to the music, you might just hear a band in the process of translating their greatest influences. But until then, it might still be too derivative to be calling it anything other than fan service.

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