Friday, Jan. 18, 2013
Better than: Getting slammed up against the bar in a mosh pit at the Eagle Tavern. But then again...
On Friday, Ty Segall, a Laguna Beach native, longtime San Francisco resident, and one the best-known recent products of this city's primitive rock 'n' roll scene, played his first headlining show at the Fillmore. For Segall, his band, and their fans, this was a milestone: A couple of years ago this guy was a mostly underground phenomenon, a grinning, blond-haired terror you might catch second or third on a large Thursday night billing at the Eagle Tavern (R.I.P.), or Cafe Du Nord, or Milk Bar. Segall and his band could headline Bottom of the Hill, and last year they even headlined (and sold out) the 500-capacity Independent. But to anyone familiar with the long and storied history of San Francisco psychedelic rock/punk/garage music, a big-font slot at the Fillmore -- where much of this history took place -- is a big deal. By selling out this hallowed ballroom, the good-natured USF grad officially crossed that line from popular local artist to major national touring act, and cemented his place among the most successful local bands of the last few years.
So Friday was a special night. And Segall -- as well as the two excellent opening bands -- played like it.
First onstage was White Fence, the L.A.-based outfit led by Tim Presley, with whom Segall collaborated for the 2012 album Hair. The group sounded typically jangly and knotty, blending a bit of the expansiveness and of Cali country-rock with their odd, withered garage rock. The crowd, already sizable for the first act of the night, paid attention -- and even excited itself into a small pit at the front.
Up next was Nick Waterhouse, the Orange County singer and guitarist who dresses like Buddy Holly but sounds like Bo Diddley shredding his vocal cords fronting the Stax Records house band. With two saxophones, a female backup singer, keys, drums, and a reliably funky bass player, Waterhouse immediately turned the broad Fillmore floor into a Friday-night dance party. There was no biding of time during Waterhouse's set -- his tight R&B could've been the main event, and parts of the crowd received it as such. But the frontman himself demurred to Segall, the man of the night: He told a story about meeting 17-year-old Ty at a show in Costa Mesa, then launched into a ripping cover of a Segall song that he said Segall doesn't play anymore, called "Baby You Can't Hide."
By the time Segall and his band came on, about 11:20, the assembled crowd filled up the entire ballroom. Segall and his band -- who had set up their own equipment earlier -- strode onstage nonchalantly. "This is crazy and insane and it shouldn't be happening," blurted a grinning Segall as he shouldered his guitar. "Thank you very much." Then the band launched into "Thank God For Sinners," the brutal opening to Segall's third album of 2012, Twins. A mosh pit quickly formed upfront, with fans running up to stage dive off into the crowd, and the show was on.
Any questions about whether the larger and fancier environs might encourage Segall and his band to switch up their set -- or take a break from the constant assault that this their usual performance mode -- quickly disappeared. The foursome never strayed from the fuzzy, fast-paced, assaultive garage rock for which they're best known. Recent Segall solo albums like Twins and last year's Goodbye Bread showed a quieter, more introspective side of the singer, with dark near-folk tunes sounding like solo John Lennon or Neil Young at his gloomiest. But Slaughterhouse, the album Segall recorded and released last year with his touring band, was all howling, impatient onslaught -- and that's the Ty Segall Band we witnessed on Friday.
There were a few moments of pageantry noting to the occasion, most notably when Segall brought out his father to play drums on "Girlfriend," the racing crowd-pleaser off 2010's Melted. He also dedicated a song to "John," presumably meaning Thee Oh Sees' John Dwyer, who helped and encouraged Segall after being impressed by one of his early solo performances. But watching Ty Segall and his band at the Fillmore felt largely like watching Ty Segall and his band play anywhere else, except with better sound, more people, and a bit more elbow room. It was loud, fast, chaotic, and terrifically fun. The frontman even got the club's security to tolerate a near-constant procession of stage-divers -- as sure a sign as any that this longtime local favorite has hit the big-time.
Encore: White Fence's Tim Presley came out to perform songs from Hair, the meandering psych-rock album he released with Segall early in 2012.
Stage lovers: Two ladies climbed onstage and briefly made-out with each other before jumping back out into the crowd. So, yeah, it was that kind of Friday night.