Four nights down, six left to go in the Ty Segall residency at the Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles this summer. Every Friday in August and September, Ty and his Freedom Band are gracing the Teragram stage that they know so well by now, treating the community and fans he has garnered in the city for a decade to excellent proof that rock n’ roll is far from dead.
Last Friday, August 16, was the first night of the Segall residency that featured 2011 album Goodbye Bread in full. After three weeks and a secret weekday Zebulon Café gig playing First Taste and 2009’s Melted, Ty is moving right along the list of albums he promised he’d play during the residency, and although Melted and Goodbye Bread are significant to his career and musicality for different reasons, seeing them back to back, played by this specific group of musicians proved that both records have a lot more in common than may meet the ear upon listening to the records as they have been released.
Goodbye Bread is one of his first ventures outside of more traditional song structures and classic bluesy-based garage rock songs; some of his more ambitious early compositions live on this album, and we see him turn the distorted fuzziness down a notch from Melted and his 2008 self-titled debut LP. It was the first time Ty released something with a higher fidelity, utilized more acoustic guitar and seemed to reel in the more unrestrained moments of his sound. All of this in mind, I was surprised to see Ty perform such a grungy version of the record live. I was surprised but not let down, as this configuration of the Freedom Band excels at being loud, sludgy and bass heavy with a thick, fuzz war gravity in the sound.
The band uses a very similar style and approach as they did with their Melted set. Shannon Lay and Mikal Cronin were each on bass guitar for at least half the set – Lay taking on the acoustic responsibilities on songs like “I Can’t Feel It” and “The Floor.” Emmett Kelly and Ty trade brazen, eccentric solos and a very present Ben Boye with a cleaner keyboard sound than during their First Taste set. Melted is a very dynamic record with a lot of classic/more renowned individual songs in the fandom and community, whereas Goodbye Bread has a little bit more of a strut and a little less impulsive explosive energy.
But live, The Freedom Band definitely approach it with impulsive, explosive energy. Songs like “The Floor” showcased the balance of acoustic-to-fuzzy-freak-outs you hear on the record, but turned up to twelve. Rougher renditions of “My Head Explodes” and “Where Your Head Goes” were both met with audience reactions similar to that of the Melted sets from the previous weeks: irresistibly dynamic; catalysts for immediate body clashing and crowd surfing a-la “My Sunshine” or “Girlfriend.” Even the songs that seem to be a more laid back on the record, “Comfortable Home (A True Story)” and “Fine” sounded like massive, open roads for improvisation; absolutely face melting walls of sound. “Comfortable Home” might have been the most drowning of the performances, with everything but the guitars disappearing during the choruses, leaving us with a fuzz war in a black hole. No complaints here. If you are at this show and complain about it being too loud – you are at the wrong gig.
Somebody recently asked me what I think is the reason that Ty is able to bring so many people to his shows across this massive residency, and how fans of his early work and of his later work seem to not just coexist but feed off of each other at the shows despite his varied and sprawling discography. Ty is significant culturally within this community in ways that few have achieved (maybe John Dwyer and Oh Sees?) because he has brought garage rock to a young audience in an age where guitar based music is becoming more and more niche.
Garage rock in the 90s and 00s seemed to play into the youthful edgy DIY energy of the time, such a quintessentially youthful thing – DIY, lo-fi, gritty, angsty music feels very fitting for growing up here in Southern California (despite him really starting his career in the bay area – he is a Long Beach native after all). Those elements in Ty’s music are what I think appeal to a lot of his early fans – which is how he developed the notoriety and hero-like stature within the scene.
Ty has always been in tune with making garage rock that’s dynamic yet accessible, with plenty of room to be conceptual and to experiment and be innovative in the studio, which has kept him on top for over a decade now. This is extremely evident in First Taste too, and you can see it when they perform it live. For example, not one of the five renditions of “Ice Plant” has been the same. Melted coming out ten years ago feels crazy, but since then, Ty has been an icon of garage rock, these early albums truly propelling him as an icon within contemporary independent rock n’ roll. He and his cohort are also wicked talented, so he appeals to various ages and all types of rock n’ roll sensibilities.
The key to the Freedom Band is that half of them have been playing together for well over a decade. Controlled chaos is a great way to describe many moments in their set – the way in which every player seems to be in their own lane that comes together as a very heavy whole, lending itself to leave room for noise and improvisation. These guys have been manipulating distortion and feedback since I was in elementary school, and Ty has grown to be a very precise songwriter, First Taste an excellent example vis-à-vis any other project prior.
Evident to everyone on board, Ty is the boss. With that comes an immense mutual respect amongst each other. Their trust in knowing both the structure of the songs all well enough to follow Ty’s cues in moments of deviances/jams allow them to stay on the same page. During the show the band keeps a close eye on him – like a jazz group, it’s all about cues and understanding the structure of the composition inherently to allow individual experimentation. Melted and Goodbye Bread were both seminal albums in his career, full of bluesy easy-to-jam-to songs which he toured extensively at the beginning of the decade with Charles Moothart, Cronin and Kelly, important members of his band back then as well. These songs have been around a while, many are fan favorites, and important to all of their careers’. They allow for reinterpretation in ways in which all of their individual strengths can be showcased that wouldn’t have been made possible a decade ago because they didn’t have the experience or musical maturity to do so.
It is clear how cohesive they are, and that they have a vivid idea of when they’re allowed to go into their freak outs – Ty being the conductor. Seeing them perform in person is a literal representation of this dynamic. Lay and Boye are also people that Ty’s been around for years now – Ty produced Lay’s new album and has shared bills with her band FEELS many times in the past. Lay toured with Ty during his acoustic leg in late 2018, and she has been a very prominent name in the Los Angeles fuzzy underground scene for years now. In addition, Boye seems to be massively vital to this line-up. Ty has expressed many times in interviews that he wants to play keys well and write music on piano but he just can’t – in comes Boye, an absurdly talented pianist. You can tell that Ty respects him so highly. His work on the bouzouki during the First Taste set is mind boggling, and is shown more on Goodbye Bread than any of the Melted performances. Also, Ty’s most recent projects – both Ty Segall (2017) and Freedom’s Goblin (2018) – feature a lot of keys, so it makes sense for this tour, and especially the Goodbye Bread set, to hear Ben carry the groove and go off on insane solos.
Most evident from this residency is that this group of musicians are a family. They all collaborate in making music with each other, so it makes sense for them to perform together. The whole operation just seems to be a family circus. With Denee, Ty’s wife and bandmate in The C.I.A., as the merch seller, along with Matt LittleJohn who produced the record oversees the stage set-up, and even the Teragram as the setting – a venue where he has been playing for years now, it is really easy to see that he and the venue love each other; and so do the fans.
We reach the half-way point of the residency next week, where Ty and company will play First Taste and Goodbye Bread once more before moving onto their Emotional Mugger dates, which is sure to exhibit a very different side of the Freedom Band than what we have been treated to so far.
Photos by Adrian Vega Albela Osorio
Adrian Vega Albela Osorio is a 23-year-old multimedia artist from Mexico based in Los Angeles. His work focuses on documenting the contemporary underground psychedelic music scene in Los Angeles. Follow Adrian on Instagram @stripedbeatle.