Distortion onstage is an odd beast. Most view it as a necessity for anything using an electrical instrument, but there are some occasions where you have to wonder if the artist would be better off without the wonder drug that is noisy buzzing. So far in his wildly prolific career, noisy indie super king Ty Segall has shown that in the studio he can make distortion bend to his will in new and increasingly stranger ways with each album – but considering how much he uses, is it even possible to recreate live? Would it work far better if he toned it down for a live crowd? There was only one place to find the answer to this question; Segall’s Meredith sideshow at the Corner Hotel on Sunday evening.
Inside the Corner stood a crowd far too pretty considering the number that had voiced that they’d only just got back from Meredith. Onstage, a keyboard began to haemorrhage in a way reminiscent of an old Playstation 1 game’s soundtrack. It’s at this point that the unreasonably not-tired crowd have their (possibly) first meeting with noise punks Ausmuteants. Front-man Jake Robertson, clad in a white shirt labelled “Life Stinks, I like the Kinks” hammered on a Roland keyboard in the corner of the stage while he screeched sentiments to be understood only by those who can read lips. Vocal responsibility was passed around throughout the night, though the most well received round was when the second keyboardist and sufferer of a broken arm takes over, since for the first time the vocals weren’t just a harsh buzzing. When the band left the stage, they left hoping for utter chaos; although if the crowd indicated anything they left more a sense of mild confusion.
The next act, Living Eyes, was much less. The four-piece came to the stage with two guitars, but most of their songs could be performed as a three piece or hell, a two-piece, considering how low the bass volume had been turned to. Perhaps aware of this lack of congruence, the band’s songs often had moments of sudden key and tempo changes. These moments, however, were so brief and somewhat out of place that it instead felt like someone had flicked a radio dial quickly over to halfway through a more interesting song, only for another person to immediately change it back. When they left, the crowd took their place at the front of the stage.
Finally the time came for the show everyone had been waiting approximately 1.25 days to see. Coming on stage clad in worn out jeans and a tee long faded, baby faced Ty Segall and his band looked as if they had absorbed the missing tiredness of everyone else in the venue. Segall began to strum his guitar as gently as one would pet an especially jumpy baby bird, and the fuzz began to fill up the venue. The audience clung to every note of the build-up, and as the he and his band exploded into the opening track, the tiredness that once was there exploded with him. It never returns until the show’s end, though the audience was with him on the sleepiness at this time. Throughout the night, Segall and his gang of musical misfits merged their grand glam new album Manipulator with some cuts from their older, ‘garageier’ stuff, though in this environment you’d be pressed to figure out which belonged to which label.
That’s the thing that makes Segall a master of noise and fuzz. Whereas most acts make the mistake of going all out all the same time with it, Segall makes use of subtlety and dynamics. Not a song is too similar too another and not a bar seemed to drag on for just a second too long. Loudness is counteracted by softness even in a live setting like this, especially with something like ‘Girlfriend’, and the crew realises that an hour of pure distortion is a bit like a drill; boring. The glam parts, although stripped back to their more scungy roots, tended to act as buffers between the bricks of noise, ensuring that nothing got too old too fast. Leaving the show, it was hard to find fault in Segall’s performance. With stage antics that send him nearly sailing into the bar and tight musicality overall, it’s enough to hook anyone new to the genre. Too bad he was showing to a group who already found out why a day and a half ago though, but then, there’s always Monday’s show too.