Better Than: Taking a crowd-surfing class at NYU
Ty Segall has long been known as a musician capable of prolific output; in 2012 alone, he released three full-length LPs — Hair, with White Fence; Slaughterhouse, with his touring band; and Twins, that year’s solo effort. He followed that up by releasing 2013’s Sleeper, as well as starting a whole new band, Fuzz, in which he primarily plays drums. With each project, Segall tends to tweak his approach ever so slightly, dabbling in black metal on one album, sprinkling in hints of psych on the next. With the August release of Manipulator, Segall hones his ability to layer more complex elements into his brand of punked-up, seething rock ‘n’ roll.
See also: The 50 Most NYC Albums Ever
Hitting the road once more with longtime collaborator Mikal Cronin on bass, drummer Emily Rose-Epstein, and Fuzz guitarist Charles Moothart (as the Manipulators), Segall stopped in New York City for two nights at Webster Hall. Wednesday’s show was rowdy and sold out, and though there were still tickets to round two on Thursday right up until Segall’s cowboy hat-clad hype-man introduced the band, it was no less raucous.
Segall’s frequent glam-rock references were dusted through the set like a fine layer of glitter; Cronin wore shiny blue facepaint; the crop-circle-esque Manipulator logo provided a backdrop on the Webster stage and adorned Segall’s all-white ensemble. But the sonic focus was on those blistering guitar solos that populate so many of the tracks on Manipulator. Segall’s fingers only left his strings for an occasional fist-pump or finger-point into the churning crowd. There were very few moments the audience was not wont to mosh, and mosh they did.
Though barricades around the photo pit are customary at Webster Hall shows, neither were present on Thursday. That’s because Wednesday’s attendees obliterated them, and perhaps management thought it best to forgo setting them up again only to have them ignored. So the stream of kids jumping onstage only to jump off a few seconds later was pretty much constant, including one flannel-clad guy very dedicated to a ’90s state of mind who must have made the leap a dozen or so times in the last half of the 20-odd song set.
It all seemed to amuse Segall, who laughed off most of the antics. It’s clear that he’s comfortable in the role of “manipulator,” whether that’s slightly warping straightforward garage rock into something folksier or funkier or punkier as the mood of a song may warrant, or whether it’s acting as a sort of puppeteer to a writhing bunch of NYU freshmen with no fear of breaking bones on Webster’s beer-splattered floor. Make no mistake: What they wanted was Segall himself, known to be a chronic coaster on the hands of the masses. In an effort, perhaps, to outdo his crowd-surfing hijinks from the previous night’s show, he vaulted his mic stand into the audience and promptly followed it, kneeling in the outstretched palms of his fans below, and belted out his last song.
Ty Segall will always be a consummate performer, as eager to strum a stunning guitar solo as he is to pull half his equipment into the audience. The same goes for his band, whose proficiency no one would fault. The irony is that with Manipulator, Segall has shown immense growth in terms of focus — that yes, he can produce endless records, but he can also craft a masterpiece over a 14-month period of writing. The LP that resulted has been called his best yet, having benefited from the extra attention to detail. But onstage, Segall is the same rocker he’s always been. He’s not afraid to risk being torn limb from limb by his adoring fans, but it might be something like fear that keeps him from exploring more nuanced sets than the simple, if crowd-pleasing, onslaught of rock song after rock song after rock song.
There are so many beautiful moments on Manipulator — acoustic segues, subtle strings; his vocals have never been more creative or infused with personal style — but too much of that was eschewed in an effort to keep the tone of the live set as uncomplicated as possible. Maybe he’s been hemmed in by his own punk persona, but the richness of Manipulator begs an equal exploration every time Segall and his incredible band take the stage. Though most of his fans at this point still want to pogo, Manipulator is sure to usher in those who long for live iterations of the many hues on that record. Ty Segall has never been one-note, and to truly support an LP that proves exactly that, his performances needn’t be, either.
Critical Bias: I would kill someone for hair as long and beautiful as Mikal Cronin’s or Charles Moothart’s.
Random Notebook Dump: Webster Hall should’ve hired air-traffic controllers to direct these stage-divers, because there are more of them on top of the crowd than in it.
Overheard: “Sell cheaper beer!” — one financially deflated showgoer, finishing the hype-cowboy’s shout-out to the bartender