John Dwyer is a pioneer. He forged his way through the wilderness of the West so we could drive across it years later with ease. We may not think of him as we careen down I-70, but his footprints are there. We couldn't have done it without him.
That may be a bold title to bestow an aging punk with a see-through Gibson SG, but it's the truth. Without Dwyer, there would be no Ty Segall, no Wavves, no Mikal Cronin. Surf-punk would be entirely different or non-existent.
For the past twenty years, Dwyer has been traveling across America bringing his vision of what West Coast punk music can be to the frustrated youth. He (and his many bands) may not receive the praise they deserve, but without his tireless efforts, artists like Ty Segall that now appear on the front page of every self-important music blog, wouldn't exist.
Friday night, Dwyer graced the Gothic Theatre with his presence and his band's, Thee Oh Sees. Thee Oh Sees famously took a non-hiatus hiatus last year, which resulted in less of an absence and more of a new single and a complete lineup change. Maybe Dwyer changed the lineup of the band as a "screw you" to the sudden attention the group was finally getting, or maybe he was just getting restless, as someone who releases at least one album a year could be prone to be. Or it was something else entirely, but no matter. Thee Oh Sees that played Denver were just a trio, with all the attention on Dwyer, which is how it should've been all along.
Dwyer may not be the be the best guitar player to ever play on the stage of the Gothic, but he surely is one of the most creative. Now, as the only guitarist on the lineup, he has to be even more creative, and you can tell he enjoys the challenge. He wears his guitar high on his chest, contorting his hands and fingers around it, bending it to his will. He takes advantage of feedback and pedals to do what his fingers cannot, creating a wholly more interesting and innovative sound than if he had just plowed through precise solos. He's also an indulgent player, unafraid to spend minute after minute manipulating the same four notes to his own satisfaction, struggling and succeeding to find melody out of noise as the whole crowd watches with anxiety. It's pure creation, and it's easy to see why a young Segall worshipped him back when he was playing as The Coachwhips at southern California DIY venues.
But, like Dwyer's career, Thee Oh Sees show was not about those little moments of genius but rather the constant bombardment of rhythm and noise that keeps the young punks in the crowd moshing and a smile on Dwyer's face as he head-bangs to his own power chords. There were few breaks, mostly to switch guitars or tune, and the rest was an onslaught of sound, backed, notably, by one of the most talented drummers seen in a while. Thee Oh Sees has always been about rhythm, stretching out what could easily be two minutes songs into five or six minutes in order to try every combination possible for the same few beats or notes.. With less guitars, a lot of that responsibility fell on the young drummer, and damn, could that kid play. Dwyer is clearly teaching the next generation well.
The day will probably come when Dwyer is ready to hang up his guitar and leave his life's work in the hands of the kids who worship him. But Friday night it was obvious that time isn't coming soon. The 40-year-old still plays like the teenager he once was, imparting his wisdom on a whole new group of musicians and music fans. People may have started building highways where his trails once were, and man, are they beautiful roads. But Dwyer is still there, forging new paths and reminding the generation below him that the wilderness is vast and there's still a whole lot more to discover.
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