Thee Oh Sees, “Live at Levitation”

This 2012 recording from the Austin psych-rock festival makes the argument that the band can prove their mettle in just 40 minutes.

Thee Oh Sees, Live at Levitation

This 2012 recording from the Austin psych-rock festival makes the argument that the band can prove their mettle in just 40 minutes.

Words: Kurt Orzeck

May 19, 2023

Thee Oh Sees
Live at Levitation

John Dwyer is a madman. This we know to be true. His work building the oeuvre of Thee Oh Sees—a.k.a. Oh Sees a.k.a. Osees a.k.a. you get the deal—is stuff of legend. They’ve put out 23 studio full-lengths (and even announced a 24th this morning), and, yeah, while that is over the course of 26 years, it’s still 23 albums. Not to mention eight EPs, 13 singles, eight live albums, and numerous side gigs.

So, you get the idea. John Dwyer stays busy. And his prolificacy isn’t contained to recorded material, as is common among projects featuring a centrifugal force and an often-rotating cast of musicians. Osees played four long shows in four nights at SXSW this year, and just last month they notched a 24-song set at the Viper Room on the Sunset Strip, of all places. But much like Guided by Voices and their far-more-unwieldy catalog, the magic of the musicians often gets overshadowed by their staggering numbers.

With that in mind, what makes Live at Levitation more smart than merely contrarian is that it captures only 40 minutes of Thee Oh Sees performing live. It makes the case that the band’s best attributes aren’t isolated to feats of duration, but are directly embedded into the innate Oh Sees sound. This installment in their live catalog immortalizes the band’s first Levitation appearance in 2012, and is part of a recently launched series of vinyl releases stemming from the Austin festival. Banter is kept to a minimum, even though Dwyer ranks up with the wryest of band leaders. His comments are mostly relegated to gracious remarks to the crowd and his note that it’s an honor to precede Meat Puppets and The Brian Jonestown Massacre on stage.

The recording is clangy. It’s garage-y. It’s jammy. It’s explosive. It’s unpredictable. It’s meandering. It’s repetitive. But, most importantly, it’s fun. Halfway through the 13-minute “Block of Ice,” Dwyer finally lets down his guard and toys with his vocal delivery a la Jon Spencer, chirping and growling and bopping his way along the sustained rhythms of his backing band (double drummers and all). At such a short length, Live at Levitation makes the argument that Thee Oh Sees can prove their mettle in just 40 minutes. Dwyer doesn’t have to play the madman to convince us of his mad genius. The record not only succeeds in that sense, it also re-cements Dwyer and whatever he’d like to call his central project at the moment as the purveyors of post-psych rock.