July 16, 2009
Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, Weird Owl | The Hemlock Tavern | San Francisco, CA | July 9, 2009
The doors of perception opened Thursday night and wouldn’t you know, the inside was just a musty watering hole for nostalgic Earth mothers and midweek scenesters. One would think that a band with a name like Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound might command more grandiose environs or, alternately, shun these dives and go 180 degrees in the other, hippier direction, only playing free concerts to homeless people in The Haight. The Hemlock Tavern isn't fit for psychedelia. This place is a cave.
On the other hand, guitars possess transformative qualities, as do soft light and Hot Rocks – when “Play With Fire” drifted from the soundboard, lots of sly head bobbing suggested that at least one amongst us was internally debating whether Jagger is the coolest dude to ever live. So Weird Owl had this vibe working in their favor, though it became evident several pulsating waves into howling drone opener “Do What Th’Owl Wilt” that none of the peripherals ever mattered in the first place. The pack of curious West Coast onlookers moved toward stage during the charged Crazy Horse stomp of “Skeletelepathic,” finding with delight that Brooklyn, too, has its fair share of sun-baked beatniks, five of whom stood directly in front of them conjuring, through rock, swirling visions of Joshua trees, Native American shamans and coyotes on acid. If the universal consciousness is in fact made of dual-guitared walls of fuzz and not some Shirley MacLaine space bullshit, then believe me, Weird Owl not only tapped into the universal consciousness, they up and hijacked the whole damn thing. Lead singer/rhythm guitarist Trevor Tyrrell mentioned that he’d seen a “Sasquatch on the side of the street in Washington state” while on tour with Assemble Head. It’s a claim he got away with – during the sixth minute of the desert-scorched stoner trip “13 Arrows 13 Stars,” none present was in the right mind to separate what’s real from what isn’t.
Moving on to another mythical creature, Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound comes on like the updated yin to the Great-California-Bands-of-Days-Past’s collective yang. Like The Byrds plugged into the jacked-up amps of Blue Cheer, the San Francisco quartet (power trio format + utility girl Camilla Saufley who pulls organ, flute and bass duties) ripped into a full-throttled, twin-guitar rave up right off the bat, at once distinguishing their live show from the measured epics pacing 2009’s When Sweet Sleep Returned.
These hippies have muscle: loud, heavily distorted muscle in the form of Charlie Saufley’s piercing, six-string workouts and a galvanizing rhythm section. With “The Slumbering Ones,” a haunting mood jam that borrows the arpeggiated ghost-plucking of R.E.M.’s “Drive,” the band proved, too, that they also have an uncanny talent for endowing woo-ooh harmonies with a sort of otherworldly authority. “Clive and The Lyre” swung the pendulum back to slash 'n' burn garage rock, but on set closer “Two Birds,” Assemble Head reveled in the satisfaction of finding one’s true calling. Here, at last, was the go-big-or-go-home psych colossus that this band was created to play – all swirling dissonance, searing guitar freakouts and electrified organ egged on by some supernatural calling. From the song’s jarring wordless chorus sprang sonic messengers with hopeful dispatch: lost and jaded flower children unite. We have found your new leader.
-Words and photo by Robbie Hilson