There’s a funny picture online of Ty Segall gently holding up a cat while giving the camera a boyish smile in a room of soft orange light with a unicorn tapestry hanging on the wall. On Sunday evening at the Trocadero, we got to see this tender side of the man behind the music as he sang the opening lines of “Alta” over a lilting keyboard progression. But 30 seconds in, that side almost completely disappeared as he ripped into the power chord that fuels the chorus of the song.
He rolled off into a series of songs without stopping for introduction, letting the audience grow more and more frenzied with every screaming solo. Though only 30 years old, Segall has already released 10 solo albums, making him one of the most prolific rock artists of this time. And the albums aren’t short either. His most recent work, Freedom’s Goblin, which he put out in January 2018, has an impressive 19 songs at a total length of 74 minutes.
His lyrics are often more straightforward than they are poetic or symbolic, resembling the Black Keys more than the White Stripes. His lengthy songs instead let the instrumentation shine, and this quality becomes even more apparent in his live performances. Segall’s rendition of “Finger,” a song from his 2010 masterpiece Melted, sent the crowd into a wild mosh pit, as he unleashed a guitar solo that powered over almost all lyrics of the song, except for those that are purposefully isolated in silence.
But even though Segall has a far-ranging discography to choose from when crafting his set lists, he still includes covers of songs from the groups that helped to shape his unique sound. On that night at the Trocadero, he included his versions of The Groundhogs’ “Cherry Red,” and Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner,” both of which rivaled the originals in their skill and ferocity. But his continued performance of classic covers is only one of the many ways that Segall stays in touch with the sound of rock across several generations.
Born in 1987, Segall entered the music scene after the New York rock revival movement from bands like the Strokes, the Vines, and the White Stripes. But where those bands looked to forge a new kind of gritty rock, Segall made sure not to lose the influence of older artists like the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, or Chuck Berry in his music. He never set rules for himself on the kind of sound he wanted to have, which is why only he can make an album that has both the Black Sabbath inspired “She,” and “My Lady’s On Fire,” a track that sounds like a cross between Bowie and the Rolling Stones with its saxophone-guitar combination.
Every generation of music fans brings a fresh crop of nostalgic whining about how the way we listen to and appreciate music has changed so much, and that there are no artists these days who come anywhere close to the level of the Beatles or the Stones. But I’d bet that none of them have been to a Ty Segall show. His extensive recordings speak for themselves, but in a live setting, the man is able to pull of Hendrix-like solos without losing the crowd in his more distorted songs. And he is the only artist I know that can incite a mosh pit of flying shoes and a rhythmic sway at different times in the same song.
If there was anyone left questioning the intensity of his music on Sunday night, Segall silenced them with an extended version of “She,” as his encore. At almost 7 minutes in length on the recorded version, the song is a masterpiece featuring only varied repetitions of the phrase “She said / I was a bad boy,” as its lyrics. And Segall showed us just what he meant by that with solos that kept his hand jumping from one end of the guitar neck to the other in sludge-like rhythms that pounded the room with a Melvins-like force as he wailed into the microphone in a way that mirrored John Lennon’s desperate screams in “Well Well Well.”
In a full 15-song set that featured work from a wide variation of his solo albums including, “Finger,” “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned),” “The Crawler,” and “Love Fuzz,” Segall proved that his guitar-saturated version of rock is no less compelling with the passage of time. If anything, the 30-year-old is still gearing up for what may come to be known as one of the most productive and innovative careers of rock history. So even though the crowd cried out in discontent as Segall announced that “Wave Goodbye” would be his last (pre-encore) song of the night, it was only a partial unhappiness, because he is an artist that shows no signs of slowing down, or waving goodbye, anytime soon.