For all his quirks on tape, in concert, Presley exudes a detached air.
Transferring the intimacy of his warped, intricately textured one-man band lo-fi recordings to a tiny San Francisco stage poses difficulties, but Tim Presley’s White Fence succeeds. These folksy, jangling and rambling songs are transformed by a vibrant, versatile band, if only for two nights.
Recorded at the club Amnesia on a multi-track Tascam 388, Live in San Francisco documents a series of concerts captured by Thee Oh See’s John Dwyer for his Castle Face label. Dwyer’s own band, with frequent collaborator Ty Segall, has proven compatible with Presley’s neo-psychedelic, early ‘70s-inspired Anglophile sounds. Presley’s voice remains an acquired taste, but those who favor Robyn Hitchcock’s homage to Syd Barrett, or George Harrison and Ray Davies’ earnest, hushed warbles, will find Presley’s updates on their British style familiar and fun.
For all his quirks on tape, in concert, Presley exudes a detached air. Judging from these results, he might have begun with some trepidation. This album opens as he scolds the audience, followed by some noodling before discipline kicks in. The combination of “Swagger Vets and Double Moon” with “Mr. Adams/Who Feels Right” aspires to late ‘60s pop combined with Captain Beefheart’s manic arrangements. The line-up allows Presley’s compositions to air out from their compressed DIY origins. In this fresh atmosphere, melodies bloom brighter and harmonies resound happier.
The set’s best song, “Baxter Corner,” may be credited to a notoriously steep street of San Franciscan grade that traps transmissions and terrifies drivers relying on GPS apps, and not the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles where Presley now resides. Tripling its original running time, this deft workout jolts, shudders and erupts into fiery riffs. Sean Presley and Jack Adams earn credit for their supplement to Presley’s lead guitar.
More awkward than the previous tracks, “The Pool” blends the queasy melodies of The Soft Boys with a chord progression from The Doors. Presley shifts mid-set into folksy singer-songwriter mode as his delivery writhes around skewed lyrics. After the propulsion and see-saw rhythms of “Harness,” it’s back to the spindly “Lizards First.” Slide guitar enlivens this originally wobbly tune. As often here, this version strengthens the Tinkertoy scaffolding of Presley’s at-home song structures.
Back when Presley fronted Darker My Love, some of the band’s members were recruited for a 2006 lineup of The Fall, and on “Chairs in the Dark,” Presley’s bark recalls Mark E. Smith. his Reformation Post TLC for 2007. “Tame” begins as a mid-tempo jangle before battering down the house. Nick Murray’s cymbals break through even if Presley’s moaning vocals overstay their welcome.
Just as Hitchcock perhaps too often aped Barrett, Presley may too closely imitate his English forebears, as in the cutting chord that elevates “Pink Gorilla.” The careening “Enthusiasm” blurs past smoothly, despite Presley’s increasing vocal mannerisms on the final songs. “Be Right Too” and the closer “Breathe Again” nod to John Lennon’s “I Am the Walrus” days, which conjures a key influence on Darker My Love.
Presley has progressed from hardcore with The Nerve Agents through DML’s soaring Beatlesque post-punk to White Fence’s memorable take on post-British Invasion art rock. Since this album appeared, two White Fence efforts completed their discography. Today, with partner Cate Le Bon, Tim Presley dismantles the guitar-based rock of this heyday. He pursues an experimental, twinkly and bent approach to songs, having left behind these deconstructions of rock as we know it.