Wednesday's packed Ty Segall performance at First Avenue was a harrowing, shriek-filled freak show of sorts, with Ty first emerging in a giant, distorted plastic baby mask and later whipping a (hopefully) fake umbilical cord over the audience.
On the heels of his most recent release, January's Emotional Mugger, the prolific garage-rock star freaked out on Minneapolis alongside a new supergroup backing band, the Muggers. Composed of Kyle Thomas (King Tuff), Mikal Cronin, Emmett Kelly (Cairo Gang), Cory Hanson (Wand), and Evan Burrows (Wand), the band appeared to have been playing with Ty forever, but in fact are only joining him for a short leg of this tour. The male-dominated crowd was big and raucous, with beer cans hurtling through the air and a swirling, angry pit.
Fairly new local band Royal Brat kicked things off, setting the tone for the rest of the night. Singer Alex Uhrich appears to have taken a few vocal cues from Segall, and his raw, distorted voice went from melodic to sporadic screaming as the rest of the band pushed hard. Noisy guitars, quick tempos, and fuzzed-out effects were reminiscent of the signature Segall sound, quickly winning the hearts of audience members who excitedly commented on their performance afterward.
Then came Feels, a loud L.A. four-piece out. It's difficult to pin down their exact sound, but they are clearly punk rockers at heart. Earlier this month, the band bore witness to a brutal murder committed at one of their L.A. performances during a mosh pit gone wrong.
As Feels described on their Facebook page, 23-year-old Orange County resident Nathan Alfaro was stabbed to death attempting to break up a fight that had erupted in the pit.
“Punk isn't about hurting other people,” the post reads. “Fuck that shit. Thank you to Nathan who gave up his life last night to try to keep the one totally psycho violent moshing guy in check.”
Feels are joining Segall for just three shows, and Minneapolis was blessed to be one. It's rare to see a band play with such well-balanced finesse and intensity. The aesthetic of three female guitarists flanked out alongside each other, all equally menacing on their instruments, left a lasting impression. It was invigorating to watch the three leading ladies defy typical “girl group” categorization with an onslaught of songs oscillating from heavy punk to sludge, grunge, and even melodic and emotional rock ballads that are well-layered and display a wide range of emotion.
Their crowd reception was huge, and everyone was hooked by the end of the blistering set. Lead singer Laena Geronimo's vocals went easily from a deep, silken tone to a powerful wail, balanced nicely by the harmonizing of guitarist Shannon Lay. In between the two, bassist Amy Allen absolutely killed it as she swayed from side to side, shaking her head menacingly along with the beat.
Feels got us revved up, then just as easily seduced us right into a trance-like state during their more melodic numbers. Their set ended in a dizzying, frenetic audio collision accompanied by violent flashes of strobe light, leaving the now-full Mainroom screaming in admiration. (Fun fact: Lead guitarist and singer Geronimo is the daughter of Devo's Alan Myers).
After a short break, the emotional mugging began. And that's truly what it felt like, as Ty & the Muggers appeared on stage like a deranged band of brothers forming a musical freak show. Segall's baby mask was terrifying, and from the upper levels of First Avenue, it looked disturbingly real.
Fans went immediately nuts, plunging forward in a crush toward the stage as the band erupted into their first song. Segall held his hand out above the crowd like a mad preacher, swaying from side to side and randomly grabbing the hands of audience members.
Emotional Mugger is Segall's eighth studio album, and though most of his performance was devoted to it, he included some old favorites as well — songs like “Finger” off of 2010's Melted and "Thank God for the Sinners" from 2012's Goodybye Bread. Both new and old blended together well, and it was powerful to see the type of performer Segall has become.
The 28-year-old has achieved cult status on the West Coast, and his fans here displayed the same devotion as they screamed along to songs and formed a pit that grew sloppier and increased in circumference as drunkenness increased.
The music itself was undeniably spell-casting, but what really fed us ammunition was the seemingly random, weird shit that Segal spouted off between songs. “This is the story of a baby, trapped in a grown man's body,” he sing-talked while stalking the stage, his figure cloaked entirely in black and face obscured by disheveled shoulder-length hair.
At one point, he event went on a long ramble about how he likes his eggs cooked, proclaiming that though he didn't have a problem necessarily with scrambled eggs, “I like 'em over easy.” He changed his mind then declaring, “Sometimes over-medium is better. But I really like 'em over easy. Yeah. Over easy. But over-medium is good sometimes ...”
After the random egg rant, the band ripped into “Diversion,” proclaiming “I'm back, I'm back, I'm back,” in a slow drone that was among the more tame songs. It still had the crowd going crazy and apparently Segall as well, as he did a backwards dive off the stage and into the upraised hand of the pit — a feat I don't think I've ever seen at First Avenue.
After he got back up on stage, the room was filled with the screams of audience members. This prompted Segall to extend the microphone stand out into the crowd so that individual fans could shriek into it. Just a few songs in, and my ears were already ringing.
It was a welcome ring though, and Segall's bizarre energy was contagious. Taking the microphone back and pushing it into his own face he pointed and screamed at one fan, “He's a bad man! He's a bad man! Bad man! bad man!,” while stomping around the stage.
Then he threw the terrifying baby mask back over his head and whipped out a complementary accessory: a long, grotesque umbilical cord, which he proceeded to swing over the audience and then drape around his neck while clutching the sides of the mask as he shrieked his way through the next song. “Mommy?” he inquired in a baby voice, “Mommy?”
“This is fucking awesome,” one fan proclaimed between songs. It truly was. The entire set was a heavy sonic intrusion, cutting deep like a surgical knife under the hue of First Avenue's most ominous stage lighting.
The down-tempo song “The Magazine" gave us just a short breather before Ty & the Muggers moved on to a memorable rendition of “Thank God for the Sinners.” Segall took a pause to introduce the Muggers, accusing most of them of being “fucking psychos.” The whole charade was deranged and enthralling.
The Muggers really did each deserve their own introduction, too. The band played so tightly it was as if they'd been playing together for life. Minneapolis was lucky to be one of the few cities on this tour to include both the Muggers and Feels on Segall's roster.
After the song “Feel,” the band exited briefly and returned for a quick and chaotic encore. “Thank you guys very much,” Segall commented. “My grandma's from around here.”
The crowd erupted into laughter and more screams. During the song “Finger,” as Segall pointed frighteningly at random audience members, a fight broke out.
“I just pointed at you, and then you guys got into a fight,” Segall said when the song concluded. “It scared the hell out of me. There was a fight.”
The railings at First Ave actually rattled and vibrated with the power of the bass. “I realized you're the same as me,” Segall yelled, “Just longing to be free,” then he and the Muggers wrapped up with “The Feels.” By this point the level of drunkenness had increased drastically, visible in the form of frenzied dance moves.
Objects continued to be hurtled through the air, and by the end of their final song, I was basically deaf from all of the screaming. I didn't mind, though. The ringing in my ears was a testament to the incredible performance. I felt like, as an onlooker to the circus of sound and oddball stage antics, I'd earned it.
Critic's bias: I'm a huge Ty Segall fan, so I was fully prepared for all of the weirdness that came along with his performance. This is the first time I've had the opportunity to see him live, and it definitely didn't disappoint.
I was really pleased that he threw in some old songs, though sticking mainly to his most recent release. Every Ty Segall song is so charged with such visceral emotion that it drives straight to the heart. I was a bit freaked out by the baby mask, but by the time the umbilical cord came out, I was so lost in the joy of actually experiencing his songs live that I barely considered the weirdness of it all.
I just wish he'd played "Slaughterhouse." There was a period of time where I listened to that short explosion of a song on repeat for about a week straight.
The crowd: Very passionate and male-dominated! Lots of long-haired hipsters with an intriguing array of facial hairstyles. Seemingly tame at first, the audience became more and more wild as the show went on. I blame it on the alcohol, but also on the fact that the high-energy performance was simply too contagious to avoid infection.
It was also the first show I've been to in a long time where I didn't get hit on by any creepy drunk dudes, despite the shortage of women in attendance — always a major plus for a person who just wants to enjoy the music without any unwanted grabbing or a sour whiskey voice shouting gross come-on lines in my ear.
Random Notebook Dump: I have to remind myself next time I go to First Ave to bring two or three packs of cigarettes because every time I stepped outside to smoke, I was descended upon by those in desperate need of one.