When Ty Segall tours, his shows frequently sell out. Fans stage dive and form mosh pits, and Segall gives his blessing (until things get out of hand). You’re likely to hear shouts of “I love you Ty!” from the male audience members. The guy is beloved, and for good reason.
In a career full of eclectic musical styles that range from surf rock to punk to garage to psych to glam and combinations of all of the above, Segall’s introspective, acoustic Sleeper (2013) was something of an anomaly. Since then, I’ve harbored a desire to see a Ty Segall: Unplugged concert. On Saturday night, at Toronto’s third annual Night Owl Festival, I finally got that chance.
This year, the Night Owl Festival was held September 14-17 at several venues across Toronto; Segall’s set was the last in a six-band showcase on Saturday at The Rec Room. The first five bands — Pink Acid Wash, Possum, Hot Garbage, Walrus, IDALG — were all immensely enjoyable. My favorite by far was Toronto’s Hot Garbage, especially their dreamy, atmospheric “Galleria,” a song that feels like the soundtrack to your favorite Giallo from the 1970s.
By the time Segall hit the stage around 12:30 a.m., the audience was primed and ready, yet likely wondering how he would translate all his guitar-god shredding into a more intimate affair. At first, Segall seemed a little shy and hesitant as he tuned his guitar and set up his amps. Even the most seasoned performer would be understandably nervous without an accompanying band to reduce some of the pressure, especially when mistakes couldn’t be covered by towers of amplifiers and feedback.
Segall opened with two songs from the aforementioned Sleeper, “Queen Lullabye” and “Crazy,” and the crowd was instantly enraptured. Although his voice cracked on the opening lines of “Orange Color Queen” and he had to start over a couple of times, no one was disappointed. And when Segall launched into “Californian Hills,” he started to visibly relax and let loose. He introduced some new songs, including one written about his dachshund, which was perfectly charming. The witchy melancholy of “Black Magic” (from last year’s Sentimental Goblin EP) was performed to perfection, while “Break a Guitar” allowed him to show off his vocal prowess.
As Segall’s self-assurance increased, so did his funny banter. It’s not that I didn’t already know about his great sense of humor, but there’s a special art to being able to sing and play guitar by yourself in front of a crowd while still making jokes that actually land, and he’s clearly mastered it. After starting a sarcastic take on The Vines’ “Get Free,” Segall joked that the rest of the set would be 30-second covers of hits from 1998. He even launched into an irony-free cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s a Winner,” and rather than being annoyed, the crowd happily joined in on the harmonies. Of course, there was one heckler, but Segall handled him with wit and grace.
At the end of “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned),” Segall dipped into The Who’s “It’s a Boy,” much to the delight of the crowd. He half-pretended to leave the stage but came back for an encore with “Sleeper.” Although the show lasted only an hour, I think everyone would have been happy to stay and watch him work his magic.
Although this was a rare acoustic set from Ty Segall, it wasn’t the first. He played a similar show at Pop Montreal on September 13, which was also warmly received. Perhaps the enthusiastic reception from both crowds will convince him to do more acoustic sets in the future.
Less Lee Moore (@popshifter) is the Editor in Chief of Popshifter, which she founded in 2007. She also writes for Rue Morgue, Everything Is Scary, Biff Bam Pop and Modern Horrors.