My Grandfather once told me that every good song was first written on an acoustic guitar. He pointed to musicians like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, whose songs could be accompanied with only six strings and retain the energy of a full band. These songs, my grandfather said, did not rely on the physical sound, the pianos, horns, drums, to define the song, the song spoke for itself. Ty Segall proved my grandfather’s point this past Friday at the Star Theater.
Segall, with opening support from Emmett Kelly, stopped through Portland in support of his recent album “Hello, Hi”. This tour, Segall opted not for a full band, just his vocals and either a six or twelve string guitar. I’ll admit, I was skeptical that the lack of fuzz pedals, burning drums, and electric guitars ever present in Segall tunes, would hurt the compositions. Ty Segall is rock n’ roll, and what’s more rock n’ roll than the electric guitar?
Skepticism was immediately proven moot. Acoustic renditions of songs like “Over” off his new record, or classic tunes like “My Lady’s On Fire” felt like I was hearing the songs as Segall first hears them when they’re written. Not as frantic songs meant to thrash, but as stories. The lack of fuzzed electric guitar, drums, or backing vocals, did not take away from the songs. A song like “Hello, Hi” where the recording has driving drums and riff rock guitars, the lack of which allowed Segall to highlight his skill in writing an excellent melody. It showed Segall’s mind for the song first, accompaniment later. Let’s also give special shoutouts to opener Emmett Kelly, whose songs were more akin to poems, no verse or chorus in sight. Both these experienced touring musicians showed they are writers just as much as they are performers.
Speaking of, the decision to perform alone onstage is a very vulnerable position to be in as an artist. There is nobody up there but you. At no point did Segall slip into a sheepish open mic performer, his stage presence was steadfast, intense, while still leaning into the intimacy that his acoustic arrangements allow for. It was evident Mr. Segall is comfortable onstage, band or no band.
Ty Segall shifted my perception of him as an artist to me this past Friday. The intimacy that came with a stripped down set, showcased his comfortability with himself as an artist, and the strength of his songwriting. As I stepped into the rain after the show, I came to a realization, Ty Segall’s tunes are not rock and roll, Ty Segall is rock and roll.