Thee Oh Sees LIVE @ The Fourm, London 30.11.15

The first band to take to the stage after Noreen McShane’s DJ set was Iceage, the Danish Post-Punkers from Copenhagen. And they were greeted by loud screams, as frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt stalked the stage clutching a can of Stella, asking for the stage lights to be turned down.

It turns out the screams they received were not obligatory “finally something is happening” screams, they were cheers of recognition by their devoted fans who found their way to the front of the Forum and promptly lost their shit as the band exploded into their opening song.

It’s clear that Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds inspires the band, and Elias evoked some of that Nick Cave-esque mystique as he prowled the stage with his one leather-gloved hand, throwing himself around like a Gothic Post-Punk rag doll.

The 11 pm curfew and the elongated DJ set beforehand meant Iceage’s set got cut short by a couple of songs, much to the anger of the band and the audience. “We’d like to play more songs for you, but that’s life,” said Elias. And they broke into an astonishing version of ‘Ecstasy’ (from their sophomore album ‘You’re Nothing’) It was a great set and one of the best reactions I have ever seen for an opening act.

Next up were Total Control, a band from Melbourne that mix Hardcore Punk with New-Wave drum machines, electronics, and Garage Rock guitars. They played quite a few songs from their latest album ‘Typical System’ and seemed to have a lot of fun; at one stage they passed around a bottle of gin and cracked a few jokes with the audience.

They kept the crowd on their toes, playing steady, nihilistic post-punk with almost dance-able synths and Ian Curtis drones, before swiftly shifting into head-banging Hardcore Punk at a moment’s notice.

Total Control is an incredibly versatile band that pack quite a punch, and while the music is intense and serious, it’s nice to know they don’t take themselves too seriously ending the set with a song that tells a story about laughing at a postman. They are further proof that the bands and artists coming out of Australia (Melbourne in particular) are some of the best bands you are likely to see today.

At this point, the crowd have been spoiled rotten by two great opening acts and even if Thee Oh Sees are not on top form, members of the crowd would still go home happy that they got their money’s worth. But of course, Thee Oh Sees (renowned for their live shows) are always on top form and what happened next blew everyone’s minds.

The band (with help from a few roadies) set up their equipment themselves. Instead of going backstage and then coming back to make an entrance they simply said hello, apologised for leaving it so long to return to the UK, and began what was the most energetic, insane and intense set I have ever seen.

Opening with ‘I Came From The Mountain’ from their brilliant 2013 album ‘Floating Coffin’ the crowd erupted into a heaving sea of convulsing, mosh-pitting bodies, as lead singer John Dwyer, with his guitar strapped high to his chest, shuffled on the spot like a man possessed.

As soon as the last chord of the opening song had finished a few people who had no idea just what they were getting themselves into, quickly darted for the safest zone of the packed Forum. People were covered in sweat already, phones and shoes were lost forever in the abyss of the mosh-pit, and it had only just begun.

Giving us no time to recover Thee Oh Sees then broke into ‘Tunnel Time’ (also from ‘Floating Coffin’) and the crowd bounced to the primal, frantic song, with little regard to the Forum’s (impossible to enforce) no crowd-surfing rule.

Next Thee Oh Sees played the first song from their much-praised new album ‘Mutilator Defeated At Last’, ‘Poor Queen’ which gave the crowd a little break as moshing turned into swaying and we were allowed to catch our breath.

However, it didn’t last long; next up were two classics back-to-back, ‘The Dream’ and ‘Tidal Wave’. The crowd got so insane it lead frontman John Dwyer to joke:  “If you’re gonna crowd surf, go backwards, if you come to the front, they’ll nab ya!”

At this point, few people in the crowd have all the items of clothing they arrived with and the Forum’s security has given up in the hope of trying to calm down the audience. A circle pit is in full swing, enveloping anyone who enters it, and the Thee Oh Sees still have over half an hour left to play.

The band is completely relentless; moving from one song to the next with little chat, just a “thank you” and a Dee Dee Ramone style countdown of “1, 2, 3, 4!” The energy they give from the stage is almost tangible and has a lot to do with their two-drummer setup and the animalistic ferocity of John Dwyer’s reverbed vocals.

When someone wasn’t crowd-surfing on your head, or spilling (what you hope was) warm beer on your shoes, you got to see just how delightful it is to watch John Dwyer on stage. Whether he is manically shifting on the spot, or singing with the head of the microphone lodged in his mouth like a tattooed Lux Interior, you couldn’t help being gravitated towards his kinetic energy.

And we also got to see just how tight the band is as a unit with songs like ‘Sticky Hulks’, the near seven-minute opus from ‘Mutilator Defeated At Last’. The rhythm section didn’t miss a beat leaving John to show off his prowess on his signature SG-shaped EGC DS guitar. During this song is the only moment of the night the crowd calm down, if only slightly.

“This is an old one, and it’s a long one, enjoy,” said Dwyer as he strummed the opening chords to the last song of the night, ‘Contraption / Soul Desert’ from the much loved ‘Carrion Crawler/The Dream’ LP.
How the crowd managed to save the energy, I don’t know, but somehow they managed to go even MORE insane than they had previously been going all night.

There is something special about seeing hundreds of people lose their shit simultaneously with the anarchic precision of a synchronized swimming team. And this crowd did just that; t-shirts, jumpers, and jackets flew in the air as if no longer needed on a rainy November night. People were falling over and being picked up by kind strangers, who in-turn also fell over, causing a ripple effect. And the crowd surfing reached such ridiculous proportions the security half-attempted (and failed) to stop it, but by then it was too late; the lunatics had taken control of the asylum.

“Thank you, we’ll see you again sometime soon,” said John Dwyer, as the band left the stage, and the crowd, in ruins. There was no encore and before the night began people were slightly upset that the 11 pm curfew meant Thee Oh Sees would only play for an hour, but as the band walked off-stage they left us with the feeling that the hour-long set was for the benefit of our heart-rates as well as the curfew.

The lights went up, and the crowd were thrust back into the real world; shirtless and shoe-less fans searched the floor for their belongings, some bruised, some battered, all with wide grins, as we limped towards the exit.
“That was the greatest thing I have ever seen!” said a sweat-soaked man as he joined the coat-check queue; that was the perfect phrase to end a perfect night.

Gabriel Ebulue