Saturday, July 2, 2022

Hello, hi, Ty again

DOWN AT THE ROCK & ROLL CLUB—Last night I attended my first show in three years. I was grateful to ride back in to town with Ty Segall, who's delivered for me so often in the past. 

Segall and his Freedom Band—Emmett Kelly on guitar, Mikal Cronin on bass and keyboards, Charles Moothart on drums, Ben Boye on keys—played Thalia Hall in Chicago, and it felt like a homecoming: every Segall show I've seen, acoustic or electric, produces the same trippy, friendly, ultimately ecstatic mood that builds and crescendos, Segall leading his band across a spectrum of sound and moods. Throughout the night a guy in front of me, tripping balls or maybe not, seemed to leave his body and ride Segall to the ceiling and back. Individual songs stood out: "My Lady's On Fire," "Orange-Colored Queens," an epic, moving "Sleeper," a stomping "Love Fuzz," among others. Yet a Segall show can also feel like one protracted song, the blend and wash of the arrangements unifying the at-times chaotically different parts. 

This was a night about sonic textures. Segall began the show solo, stage-left with his acoustic; after a few songs, so whisper-quiet in places that the back-bar conversation competed, he was joined by Kelly on another acoustic. The two faced off at opposite ends of the stage for a few more songs, producing a folky, gently rich prelude to the full band, who eventually emerged to let rip the middle, thickly-loud and groovy section of the show. Longtime mate Cronin and Boye produced on keyboards heavy layers of ambient psychedelia during and between numbers, some passages of which felt like songs in and of themselves. Kelly and Segall's tandem playing was vivid, divided as the guitarists were on opposite ends of the stage. Kelly's leads soared, yet were kept tethered to this world by Segall's hefty rhythm playing; Kelly obliged with his ballast to Segall's ascending solos. Symbolically centered, drummer Moothart kept everything grounded, a look of spacey but determined concentration on his face, his style moving from nimble free-jazz to four-on-the-floor stomp, sometimes in the same song. While his bandmates jammed, he tightened down the bolts. It took me a few songs to connect with last night's performance, but once I did I elevated and remained aloft. A good Segall full-band show gives the impression of lighting a Chinese sky lantern: you have to be patient while the heat fills the paper balloon, but once the density lowers and the lantern rises, the borne-up feeling is liberating. Now you're along for the ride.

Segall doesn't talk much—a "Hello," a "Thanks," and an endearingly awkward twirl-and-bow before his encore is all the stage presence he needs with a catalogue as vast and deep as his. His personality emerges from his performance. Segall seems most alive as he plays, strumming his acoustic or ear-splittingly mauling his electric. He often solos in a push-and-pull with feedback that you can practically see come lurching from his amp. When he takes the mic to sing, he does so through his thick curtain of blonde hair, his face and its mood completely obscured; when he solos, he's truly on stage, bathed in cones of purple or gold light. Segall's released so many albums and he tours so often that you can hit a show of his and, if you haven't listened to his latest two or three releases, you might not recognize much in the setlist. I haven't listened to his latest, Hello, Hi, a whole lot yet, but I know and love the lead single "Saturday," a highlight last night, one of those tunes that galvanized the crowd which, amoeba-like, moved imperceptibly closer to the stage. 

"I feel OK on Saturday," Segall sang, we all sang. I woke up today, a Saturday, with the song in my head, and I felt even better. To drink again in a crowded venue packed with lively strangers, to feel amplified noise in my chest: these are simple but sublime pleasures that have been denied me and millions of others for so long. I'm back finally, hesitantly, and hedging, and I'm grateful. I stood three-or-so deep from the stage as I like to do, which put me at the edge of a spontaneous poor-man's mosh pit which heated up now and again. One guy unintentionally kicked me hard on my shin before I shoved him back into the pit. This morning I woke up with a bruise I was very glad for.

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