“PICK UP YOUR GUITAR!!!” Some fans in the balcony of the Vogue Theatre grew restless and impatient last Friday as Ty Segall went hands-free in his biggest Vancouver showing yet. But no one in the throbbing, fleshy pit below seemed bothered. They were too concentrated on keeping their balance as they literally stood on top of each other, their legs braced by the fans who chose to stay on the ground. They were in too mad of a dash to rejoin the fray as security plucked crowd surfers like berries ripe with feverous joy from the mob. There didn’t even appear to be enough room to draw a breath to complain.
That same day, the San Fran rocker released his eighth studio album, Emotional Mugger. It’s a staggering prowler filled with off-notes and an offbeat vibe that owes in no small part to the smiling doll head that adorns the album’s cover. Mugger features a menagerie of addict characters with candy being Segall’s metaphor of choice for the pain and emotional deficit of overindulging in instant pleasures. Emotional Mugger churns the stomach, twists it into knots, and Segall successfully recreated that queasy sensation live. “Real horror show,” as A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex might say.
Frequent orange and red lighting cast a wicked, visceral glow which particularly complemented the band member attired in an orange jumpsuit, orange cap, and orange shutter shades and who played, you guessed it, an orange guitar. Ty appeared somewhat custodial, dressed in all grey, if not for his vest, reflective studs that formed a large cross along the side of both pant legs, and, for much of the show, a baby mask, the very same that appeared in much of the album’s promo material.
By intention, Segall was not himself for most of the show. “Where’s Gary!?” he cried over and over again, calling out for his “14-year-old son.” As the band launched into a song, a shirtless Gollum-like figure crawled onstage with his legs tucked to look like a double-amputee. A belated Segall jumped up and down at the sight of his supposed offspring and cheered him on: “Let’s hear it for Gary!!!” Gary clawed his way to the band members’ feet and writhed on the floor before retreating into the abyss.
Segall, with a fake umbilical cord in hand, clutched his head in desperation and babbled in a frantic baby-voice, crying for his mommy and daddy. He sobbed into the orange-clad guitarist’s shoulder who rubbed Segall’s head in consolation. “Where’s Gary!? Did he leave me too!?!? I’m gonna have to put Gary back in time out! He’s a bad kid.” Gary eventually re-emerged, and Segall calmed his boy down with some candy. “Candy for the good kid!” Gary retreated again, satiated and happy.
The audience, too, provided visual spectacles. Along with the abovementioned moshing and feats of verticality, the view from the balcony showed crowd surfers at their zenith and beer cans rocketing across the theatre like RPGs and pelting random people in the head. The cans flew so high that their streaming liquid reflected the house lights mounted on the edge of the balcony. The frothing mass of people on the floor swayed in unison to “The Magazine”‘s slow drone, and a sea of hands shot up in a flutter of rapid, synchronized claps during the right parts of the song. Segall snapped the crowd awake from their hazy daze with “Thank God For Sinners” and “The Crawler”, a crusher that ignited everyone like dynamite.
Given the album’s, and thus the show’s, terrifying aesthetic, nothing seemed out of the ordinary when two figures scaled their way to the roof via some rigging on both sides of the theatre. The person on the left descended after a brief sojourn, guided down by security and flashlights, which further gave the impression that they were part of the act. But when the person on the right hung out for a bit longer and rocked out precariously hard to a couple more songs including “The Feels”, sometimes clinging by one foot and one hand, sometimes clinging by one foot and quickly releasing and grabbing back on with one hand, the mood began to change. Security exchanged words with Ty who then urged the fan to come back down to earth. “Believe me, I’ve done that,” he said empathetically. “And I almost killed somebody. Don’t punish him because he’s being a good boy now by walking down.” The fan only basked in the completely focused attention he was garnering. “Okay, maybe he’s not such a good boy,” Segall conceded. But the fan ultimately relented, and down he came, ending a potentially disastrous standoff that had already become too real. “Real horror show.”
With the house lights on before the negotiation even started, Segall finished his set with two more songs, closing with “The Singer”. He stood idly and watched his band drag out languid, delirious guitar solos and blow out a robust solo from a big, fat saxophone.
“He didn’t play his guitar once,” a fan was heard lamenting on the way out. Understandably, fans wanted to see Ty as they knew him, especially those who’d never seen him before, and on what was likely his most expensive Vancouver show yet. But it’s also understandable that someone as prolific as Ty Segall would want to try something different. That he made the bold move of forgoing expectations – that he was so committed to bringing Emotional Mugger to life, to creating a bizarre world for all of us to not only hear but to see, was admirable. Segall displayed a presence as a front man that, besides just rocking like hell, many fans may not have known he was capable of.
Consider, moreover, that the typical Vancouver mosh pit has a blast radius of approximately 10 feet. The sweaty whirlpool Ty Segall set in motion almost spanned the entire floor of the Vogue. Security plucked moshers from the crowd halfway into the opener, “Squealer”. Some of the sweatiest bodies I’d ever seen spilled onto Granville Street at the end of the night, many of them completely drenched and still gasping, happy that their lungs could meet the exhaust-filled, ashen Friday night air of the Strip. So Ty Segall withheld the candy from the fans who wanted to see their hero play guitar. But that’s what Emotional Muggers is all about.
View more photos of Ty Segall at the Vogue Theatre here.