Photo by HENRY SAVAGE
On a similarly cold and rainy night last April, I caught Ty Segall on tour with his band in support of his earlier 2018 record, Freedom’s Goblin. (Since then, he’s put out two more albums – Joy, a collaboration with White Fence, and Fudge Sandwich, eleven tracks of his favorite psych-rock covers.) That night seven months ago changed my whole idea of what a modern rock concert could be. The venue shook under the force of Segall’s unwieldy guitar power, and the front barrier I was pressed up against threatened to collapse under the weight of an increasingly intense mosh pit.
So when I saw the announcement for a solo acoustic show, I wondered how such free and untamed distortion and screaming could possibly translate to a coffeehouse style set of a man and his guitar. But of course, Segall’s solo set in the North Philadelphia basement of Underground Arts was nothing short of completely excellent. The stage was empty save for a stool, microphone, and amps, and Segall emerged with only an acoustic guitar, crumpled setlist, and grapefruit La Croix. Under radiant orange light, he pushed a lock of his blonde hair behind his ear, and strummed into “Orange Color Queen.”
Immediately captivated, the room of long-haired flanneled dudes around me stared up at their rawk god in awe. Smiling like a precious cherub, Segall expressed his gratitude for the crowd’s appreciation, acknowledging that this quieter side of his music is one we rarely get to see. In the spaces between songs, fans yelled out requests, one of which Segall appeased with “Ghost,” before which he said “You’re not supposed to play that on acoustic guitar, but I’ll play it for you.” He smiled at cheers for more, and answered a few yelled-out questions, like what his favorite color is (answer: he doesn’t have one).
He played songs old and new, covers and originals, including “Alta,” “My Lady’s On Fire,” and “Fanny Dog,” all off of Freedom’s Goblin. After that last one, during which his hand strummed at blurring speeds, he cutely remarked, “I miss my dog. A lot.” Still smiling, he also played a couple of songs off of Fudge Sandwich, covers of The Dils’ “Class War” and Gong’s “Pretty Miss Titty.” And reassuring the crowd that he had more stuff in the works, he played a new song that meandered over the words, “I sing my songs that sound like me,” and included an a cappella series of high-pitched “La La La’s” at which Segall himself couldn’t keep from chuckling.
I had wondered whether or not Segall would play any songs off of his 2010 masterpiece, Melted. After all, the white-hot distortion-soaked energy of fan favorites “Girlfriend,” or “Finger,” might be the furthest music from an acoustic sound in all of Segall’s prolific discography. So my head rang in happy excitement when I heard a softer take on the opening riff of “Sad Fuzz,” and I joined in with the rest of the fans singing along loudly and badly to the descending chorus.
Returning for a two-song encore, Segall played Spinal Tap’s Yardbirds pastiche “Gimme Some Money” until one of his guitar strings snapped under the pressure. After handing it to an effusively grateful dude in the front, Segall opened up the room for requests, but adamantly refused some fans’ pleas for a T. Rex cover, smiling while he yelled back “No T. Rex! No way, man!” In the end, he chose to cover The Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Then, taking one last swig of his fizzy La Croix, he waved good night to all over applause and shouts of “See you in February!” – a reference to his recently announced show with White Fence.
I walked back out into the cold with the same warmth I felt seven months ago, the kind that derives from witnessing some form of passion in art, and refreshes your confidence and faith in humanity despite the dark headlines of every morning. This morning, there was no such darkness for me, just the ringing remnants of Segall’s voice in my ear. As I left my house, I looked up at the rain dripping from pale gray skies and wondered just as he did last night, “Why do I feel so fine?” — SOPHIE BURKHOLDER