Chris Wyse, founder, vocals and bassist lead of the LA-based hard rock band, OWL, responded to people who told his child self that he couldn’t play a bass that way with the rejoinder, "Rock music is not supposed to have rules. That's the whole point… I don't want to fit into anyone's idea. I want to show you new ones."
Chris and his bandmates, guitarist Jason Achilles Mezilis and drummer Dan Dinsmore, have been showing the rock world new ideas, new ways of playing and new rock concepts for almost a decade. And those new ideas were on full display for an adoring crowd Tuesday night at Hollywood’s storied Whiskey A Go Go.
A three quarter full house was well-warmed up by pounding beats and screaming guitar licks of the journeyman band Chemical Burn when OWL began to set up. By the time Chris Wyse turned his flashing grin on the crowd and hit his the first chord, the room was jam-packed full – a sea of upturned faces of all genders and a wide range of ages inhabiting a forest of raised cellphones and cameras. They were on! and so was OWL. The music flowed like a torrent of high voltage lava with barely a pause for 45 heart stopping minutes.
Wyse and company were playing old favorites and previewing songs from their upcoming EP, Things You Can’t See, playing on a very strong bill (especially for a Tuesday night) with Philm, Siren Call, Meade Ave and their lead-in, Chemical Burn. The new EP, Owl’s third recorded release (not counting their 2002 compilation tribute to the Red Hot Chili Peppers) after The Right Thing and Owl. All their albums have been produced by Mezilis’ Overit Records. If Tuesday night’s performance is any indication Things You Can’t See is set to be their most magical and popular offering yet. The seven songs belted out at the Whiskey, which included the new title track, “Things You Can’t See” made it clear the album will be a must-have collection of hard rock music.
After over a decade of performing with Cult and now with Ace Frehley of KISS, Wyse is always precisely tuned to his audience. He stepped up to the microphone, bass guitar in hand, waved, gave a fiendish grin and launched into “The Right Thing”, electrifying fans all the way to the last seats in the balcony. Dinsmore’s drum kit moved like a jackhammer tuned with the sensitivity of a surgeon to Wyse’s machinegun bass notes, while Mezilis shot licks out into the club like lightning bolts from Zeus.
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The band shifted to “Send” from The Right Thing album, with Wyse gliding across the strings like a virtuoso sorcerer, spinning out notes that created their own world, lit by iridescent flashes from Jason’s guitar while they both strode the stage, giving the fans and a gaggle of photographers a series of dramatic close ups. Wyse shifted to his famous electric standup bass for “Alive”, fist-bumped a fan with his bow hand, and started a slow buildup - first with a bow and then picking and strumming with his fingers. Dinsmore kept up a tap beat on the snare and Mezilis joined him on the vocals, keeping a barely restrained hand on his guitar. But the restraint couldn’t last as the song built to a crescendo, the bow came back out and ethereal sounds came from the almost humanoid instrument dancing with Wyse, gliding the song back to earth.
The gloves came off more with “Pusher” from the Owl album when Mezilis went into his trademark crouch and the sounds of outer space started flowing from Wyse’s bow. Somehow, Dinsmore’s drumming became simultaneously aggressive and precise. It was also here that Wyse’s and Mezilis’ hard wired connection to the audience became palpable – you could almost see the lines of electricity radiating from both of them as they struck practiced poses and choreographed moves, enjoying themselves to the hilt and taking the entire room along with them. Wyse’s grim turned into a joyous howl- this was fun!
It was also hard work. Wyse stopped to take off his leather jacket, turned back to the crowd and asks if anyone was going to get “a little action that night”…and joked that maybe he would. The electricity lines got brighter. Then he introduced the band, exchanged the standup bass for the bass guitar and shifted into “Things You Can’t See” from the new EP while Mezilis put a bottleneck on his right hand for a few licks.
“Things” solidified OWL’s reputation for breaking the rules and injecting new ideas into rock and roll. The band is unique in its ability to blend hard rock – near metal – with melody. Wyse’s deep experience in leading with the bass and his close connection with Mezilis produces a living, breathing thing onstage. The bell-like guitar tones from both the bass and lead guitar swirl so beautifully across the wall of Dinsmore’s drumming that it puts OWL in a category by itself. Where other bands rock, OWL rocks and flies and laughs and sails. Where other pound, OWL pounds and energizes and lifts off. Where other bands move your head and your feet, OWL moves your head, your feet, your lizard brain and your imagination.
The head and feet movement continued on through “Who’s Gonna Save You?” propelled by two sets of flying fingers and a steady industrial drumbeat. That blended into the finale, “Violent Center” from OWL’s first album, where everyone completely let go. The industrial beats from Dinsmore went rapid-fired ballistic. Wyse, strolling calmly around the stage while pouring out a torrent of bass licks, epitomized the spirit of OWL – melodic calm in the eye of the hard rock storm. Mezilis picked up my telephoto lens, and after a nod from me, used it like a bottleneck on his guitar, kneeling at the edge of the stage and playing it like slide style, eliciting high pitched shreds like no other.
With Philm coming up, OWL had to wave goodbye after “Violent Center” but the crowd clearly did not want them to leave. The consolation prize for ending the set was the announcement that the new EP releases next week. My bet is that it will break all the rules and sell out fast – appropriate for a band that needs no rules.
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