We crested the little hill in the middle of Potrero del Sol Park about ten minutes before Thee Oh Sees were to start their set. We looked down at the stage, and our jaws dropped. The crowds, having spent the afternoon in blissful lethargy, had finally woken up and had packed the space in front of the stage, where the band was already set up. We ran.
Frontman John Dwyer looked out into the crowd. “Fuck it,” he said, and, with one brutal chord, turned us all into monsters.
But the day didn’t start here; the entire afternoon was full of exciting performances that, even if they didn’t get people on their feet, demonstrated how much fresh music is coming out of the Bay Area, and the ability of The Bay Bridged / Tiny Telephone Records to bring them all together.
Cool Ghouls, complete with a three-piece horn section, blasted through tracks from their debut self-titled LP, while Blouse kept things cool with alternating syrupy synths and stark acoustic guitar numbers. Social Studies sounded like a sunnier Beach House, with Natalia Rogovin’s powerful vocals overcoming any and all technical difficulties that came her way.
Painted Palms played a captivating set featuring tracks from their most recent EP, Nothing Lasts Long, blending elements of Top 40 pop with Animal Collective-style blurps and bleeps. Singer/guitarist Chris Prudhomme blew me away with his soaring voice that, even when loaded down with reverb and delay, shone through the rest of the mix.
It was Thee Oh Sees, however, who stole the show at Phono del Sol. From that first chord, the opening to their most recent album, Floating Coffin, they had the entire crowd in the palm of their hand. You could almost see a giant ON/OFF switch floating in the air; when the band wanted us to calm down for a minute, all they had to do was switch into Poppy, Catchy Mode. But then it was back to THRASH. And the crowd went insane again and again, bodies flying overhead, bodies barreling into each other (and helping each other up), pogoing like there was no tomorrow. And then, towards the end, Dwyer said, terribly calm, “You know, you guys are welcome to join us up here.”
There was a moment of inertia; no one knew what to do. Then we were jumping the barrier, screaming, and we were on stage, and the moment was shared. And that’s where we stayed for the rest of the set. It was one of those magical performances that end, and you just want to hug everyone.
As we made our way out of the park, the early evening sunset dappling the trees, I felt like I’d seen something that I’d been missing for awhile: rock and roll that will really knock you off your feet that keeps you going until your body breaks.
-Written by Max Levenson and photographed by Marta Franco