Saturday, November 12, 2022

Ty Segall, surrounded

DOWN AT THE ROCK AND ROLL CLUB—I spent an evening with Ty Segall in the round last night at Thalia Hall in Chicago. I'm a fan, and Ty delivered, as he always does. I caught an acoustic show of his seven years ago at the Empty Bottle, and, like that night, at Thalia he repurposed the sonic groove of his electric material for something that was part ethereal, part earthly. Across a 21-song set, his engaging pysch-folk elevated from a "stage" a foot off the ground laid in the center of the floor of the large hall, around which a smallish crowd gathered, most of them clutching heavy coats in their arms, all of them smiling. (The dapper and winning Emmet Kelly opened with a brief set of his elegant, superbly sung folk songs.) The vibe was intimate but thankfully not preciously hushed. Segall was in fine voice, and inside of it moved from screech to falsetto to croon, enlivening his idiosyncratic, minor-leaning melodies with his marvelous guitar playing among three acoustics, including a ringing 12-string. His playing was gentle, with plucking and strumming, until it was furious, approximating the chug-chug of a freight train picking up speed but not too early where you can't jump on for the ride. 

Anytime I can hear Segall sing "Sleeper," I feel fortunate, and last night the melody, stripped of its electric, guitar-heavy finery, was a lilting thing of beauty. But the highlight came in the middle of the set. Segall sang the entirety of "Orange Color Queen" (from 2017's Ty Segall) off mic, his eyes shut tight but for the occasional checking of his bearings. The performance highlighted the impression I felt all evening that Segall was busking in a park for a small crowd, the illusion aided by the stray bird-song sounds he made while tuning his guitar between numbers, whistles that were then picked up and imitated by various members of the crowd. Close your eyes and you felt as if you were outside in warm weather beneath trees. Thankfully the ringing of registers, opening of beer cans, idle chatter from folks at the back bars—the usual problems at acoustic shows—never really intruded last night, because the crowd, surrounding Segall as they were, created its own island of sound and presence. I was grateful for this on the first really cold day of the season. "Warm Hands," also from Ty Segall, was a concert unto itself, Segall moving maniacally from verse to chorus to bridge in the long song as if he were narrating an epic short story, his guitar playing one of the characters. 

You won't get much "presence" from Ty; he's taciturn, offering a shy smile and an occasional thank you between songs. Soon you recognize that his personality emerges in the range of his vocals and in the shapeshifting of his guitar playing, the wellspring of his enormous catalogue of songs laid bare. At the conclusion of "My Lady's On Fire" at the end of the set, Segall asked the crowd to sing the final "no, no, no no no no" lament. We obliged. Hearing, and joining, I don't know, a hundred people singing loudly in a large hall for a few moments was no small pleasure, especially in these months of heading out to shows again. He came back for a two-song encore, then thanked us for being so nice.

After Segall took the stage for his opening song, the woman behind me turned to her friend and gushed, "He’s my Harry Styles!" It was maybe my favorite moment of the night. Keep ascending, Ty.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. Ty is the man. Reinforces and underlines my confidence in the past, present, and future of rock. The fact that it will never die.

Joe Bonomo said...

Right on!