There is something inherently endearing about a band mixing the mythologies of Horatio Alger and Rube Goldberg by making off-the-cuff music of ramshackle grandeur. Baby boomers of a certain vintage will fondly recall the garage-band psychedelia of one-hit wonders like the Count Five with “Psychotic Reaction” and the Electric Prunes with “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.”
John Dwyer and his band Thee Oh Sees have that same sense of silly disproportion, that desire to simultaneously exercise and explode lofty ambitions. It’s a pleasant approach for musicians and their fans alike, for it fosters a feeling of do-it-yourself community while immunizing the group from myriad mistakes. If things get a little sloppy, well, lighten up, dude, and realize that nonchalance is one way to keep the door ajar so that serendipity can slip in.
It should surprise no one that Providence native Dwyer put Thee Oh Sees together out in San Francisco, the wellspring of psychedelic spirituality and mischief. The band is a power trio, but not in the classic sense of Cream, The Who or the Hendrix Experience. Dwyer’s guitar goes heavy on the strum and reverb, drummer Mike Shoun delivers the snare-centric impulsivity common to rockabilly, and bassist Petey Dammit is all about fattening the sound. Vocalist Brigid Dawson, who occasionally doubles on tambourine, supplies helium urgency similar to Exene’s role in the band X.
There are times when Thee Oh Sees deflate the garage-rock into mediocre folk, as with this too-staged rendition of “Block of Ice.” They’re at their best ratcheting up the fervor, as on “Visit Colonel” from their MySpace page which sounds like X hollering from inside the alt-universe TV set of “Poltergeist” (also check out “Ruby Go Home” which has the DNA of bastard children from the Gang of Four). But my favorite splice of Thee Oh Sees, which gets to the essence of their appeal, is this You Tube clip of them playing “Ghost In the Trees” outside an actual garage during the South By Southwest festival in Texas two years ago.
Last but not least, St. Paul’s Turf Club is the ideal venue for this type of shenanigans. The $10 cover is a bit steep for the club, but in this case likely to be worth every penny. Red Pens and Invisible Boy will open, meaning Thee Oh Sees might not hit the stage until nearly midnight.
Thee Oh Sees at the Turf Club, tonight, Sept. 14, with Red Pens and Invisible Boy; 9 p.m.; tickets $10.