Ty Segall has always been a terrific documentarian. As a well-aged and well-networked modern garage rock innovator, Segall has already recorded more material than the vast majority of the musicians from the past 10 years. It would be hard to have all that creative energy and not want to catch as much of it on tape as possible.
“Deforming Lobes,” released last Friday, is the result of a properly advantaged opportunity to preserve a piece of history. Engineer and producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, Cloud Nothings) holed up in LA’s Teragram Ballroom in January 2018 as Segall instigated a total freak out with his live set three nights in a row. Segall then went through and selected his favorites from their stint, resulting in the track listing for the album.
The setlist was performed alongside a pack of feral dogs known as The Freedom Band, a quartet featuring Mikal Cronin on bass, Emmett Kelly on guitar, Ben Boye on keyboards and Charlie Moothart on drums. The band initially formed to record and tour on Segall’s 2017 self-titled album and hasn’t left his side since.
Segall took on a lot in 2018, as he released three studio albums of varying themes and concepts. By far the most ambitious project was “Freedom’s Goblin,” a 75-minute avalanche of punchy riffs crashing through the eclectic range of sound produced by The Freedom Band.
The precision with which Segall juggled the wide range of ideas on “Freedom’s Goblin” saw him take each concept to its artistic peak. If he set out to make make a Prince-esque funk track on “Despoiler of Cadaver,” lord knows he succeeded.
“Deforming Lobes” was recorded just before the release of “Freedom’s Goblin,” but surprisingly there are no tracks from “Goblin” on the setlist. Replace album promotion with quality and volatility and “Deforming Lobes” is born. Deep cuts like “The Told Me Too” as well as fan-favorite classics like “Finger” make the set a nod to Segall’s hardcore fans as well as casual listeners.
In the first track, “Warm Hands,” the set flies out of the gate as roaring guitars so rudely interrupt the announcer introducing the act. The band just couldn’t wait any longer to hurl their sonic weight all over the audience. As “Warm Hands” makes obvious, Segall is a student of calculated insanity. The intricacy and the brutality in this track walk the thin line of complementarity. Whether he knows it or not, Segall is demonstrating key similarities with some of the greatest rock ‘n’ rollers in history.
Atypical of most live albums, “Deforming Lobes” has so little excess room noise that it might as well be a studio album. This kind of mixing mastery could only be the work of Albini, who literally makes his living taming chaos. Once each track comes to an end, the crowd is seemingly nonexistent and the silence in between tracks is almost eerie. The silence is sometimes so deafening that it almost seems like the band isn’t real at some points — like they’re mannequins who come alive to play a killer jam and then go back to plastic. The upside is always the sound, which just sings with it’s heartily balanced EQ.
The mixing finds perfect symbiosis with the instrumentation, which represents the rock, the hard place and everything in between. Segall’s signature muffed-out guitar acts as a battle cry, particularly on riff-heavy tracks like “Breakfast Eggs,” where the attack and release are timed precisely to embody the confusion that is on-brand with Segall’s acid-baked idea of punk rock.
Segall has always been a sucker for ‘60s and ‘70s classic rock. Last year he released “Fudge Sandwich,” a smorgasbord of throwback cover songs, which he melted and recast into his own personal mold. “Cherry Red,” the 1971 track by The Groundhogs and the last song for one of the three sets, was transformed into a five-minute earthquake, falling in and out of crying double-guitar solos, climaxing more times than one could count.
As the track ends abruptly, Segall is left flying in psychedelic oblivion. He calmly thanks the audience and leaves. Segall has taken to heart the first rule of show business: always leave them wanting more.