31 Oct 2016

Wooden Shjips @ Scala (live review)

During their seventy minute long astral voyage through Central London's Scala venue, San Fran drone-pop outfit Wooden Shjips looked, sounded and radiated thus; they're the ultimate psych band. Fronted by Ripley Johnson - the only man in music cool enough to rock a beard - they combine omnipresent organ, pulverising basslines and hypnotic tones to create something that sounds like Les Rallizes Denudes, Suicide and Hawkwind freaking out together. Their live show not only lives up to this comparison and their stellar back catalogue, but adds intensity, deafening noise, and of course, psychotropic visuals, to make sure that seeing the band live is the same transportative experience that you want a psych band to be.

As soon as Ulrika Spacek finished their set of stellar Spacemen 3 worship, Wooden Shjips took to the stage in the autonomously serious way that only a great band can. Probably double the age of your average psych band, there's very little about the appearance of the individual members that tries to put style before substance. Instead, the Shjips all wore plain white Ts to A) maximise the powers of the lighting and B) let their music speak for itself.

From the off, visuals of hi-def television static combined with an electromagnetic guitar-bass-organ drone that dealt out tinnitus to the audience like it was going outta style. The most fun you can have with one chord? A million percent. Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate between when song finished and another one started, such was the constant incessant pummel of the four-piece, but when they picked up the pace for Ruins with its almost rockabilly drum pattern's marriage of the trademark Shjips guitar sound, the band reached their most transcendent.

Obviously These Shadows was utterly gorgeous live, and a surging Lazy Bones brightened up a grey London Sunday night in a way that only completely extra-terrestrial strangers from California could. A lotta bands can perfect that droning psych-rock, but it's Wooden Shjips who can best broadcast it into your head via a surging 70 minute live show - not only does it never become boring, but the band never become something that it's even a possibility to take your eyes off.

(Words: Cal Cashin)