Packed room, real close: Ty Segall

Ty Segall
Kings, Raleigh
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013

If rock ‘n’ roll has ceded its commercial and cultural dominance, you wouldn’t have known it Wednesday night, when Ty Segall stirred a large, and largely underage, crowd into a screaming mass. This was Segall’s fourth Triangle visit since 2011, his third at the 250-capacity Kings Barcade in downtown Raleigh, and the first to sell out in advance.

Segall’s growing local fanbase reflects the sharp ascent in national prominence that has followed Segall’s 2011 signing with the label Drag City. Since then, the 25-year-old garage rock prodigy has released three full-length albums for that imprint (2011’s Goodbye Bread, last year’s White Fence collaboration Hair and Segall’s most recent and most well-received solo album Twins), plus one credited to the Ty Segall Band on In The Red and a singles collection on Goner. In the promotion cycle for Twins, Segall made his late-night television debut on Conan and played for a visibly befuddled David Letterman a month later.

The ascendant California rocker and rockist has used his spotlight to proclaim the self-evident goodness of rock ‘n’ roll. In a Pitchfork story, he challenged Skrillex and the EDM superstar’s fanbase: “What are those kids gonna think when they hear rock ‘n’ roll?” he begged. On stage in Raleigh, Segall offered a sarcastic “defense” of Beyoncé’s alleged Inauguration Day lip-syncing. “She’s—just—such a good dancer,” he jeered.

With this rock-purist tunnel vision, Segall preaches to his choir. He becomes a living defense of rockism, or, more generously, an unapologetic evangelist for loud guitars and unvarnished live performances. The audience for this sort of thing might have little representation on commercial airwaves, but on the Internet, it’s a vocal faction of music fandom. The astute critic Nitsuh Abebe summarized the comment-board polemicists’ philosophy, writing, “The one fact about music these types had firmly lodged in their minds was that the person who sang Britney Spears songs was not the same person who wrote them, and that this was one of the top 10 worst things that had ever happened on the North American continent. Pop was a glitzy con; rap wasn’t even music; nobody played ’real’ instruments; everything had been all downhill since Zeppelin, or the Sex Pistols, or Nirvana.”

From his first efforts as a scrappy and primitive-sounding one-man garage blitz, Ty Segall has been compared to rock martyrs. Initially, his fuzz-frenzied punk earned him comparisons to the late Jay Reatard, revered among garage-rock diehards for his anxious and infectious sprees of caterwauling pop. But Segall’s music has shed punk’s amateur allure, instead adopting prominent classic rock and psychedelic influences. Marrying punk’s volume and urgency with the melody and groove of ‘70s hard rock, Segall more closely recall’s rock’s Last Great Martyr, Kurt Cobain. (That he could be spotted with a shaggy blond mane, a Fender Mustang and thrift-store cardigans in Raleigh doesn’t hurt.)

Unlike Cobain, though, Segall seems to be embracing his role as Rock Star. His newfound fanbase is fervent, and on Wednesday, they vaunted the roar of Segall’s guitar with high-fives and hollers, stage-diving and reckless dancing. “This is my fuckin’ favorite song,” one enthusiastic young fan shouted after only a few bars of “You’re The Doctor.” “My ears are bleeding!” rejoiced another.

On stage, Segall and his faithful band—guitarist Charles Moothart, bassist Mikal Cronin and drummer Emily Rose Epstein—displayed a casual poise, smiling to each other between songs and playing with obvious chemistry. Tight harmonies between Moothart and Segall on guitars or Cronin and Segall on vocals offset the crush of overdriven Fenders. The band stretched its songs to embrace punk’s sinuous squall, but never lost its firm foundation in structured pop; they used their volume to exhilarate, not to challenge, and the audience responded in kind.

In its own terms, it rocked.