Wooden Shjips – West (2011)

A delegation from PAAC Auckland spent a very psychedelic Sunday evening at the Kings Arms this week, to see the second coming of San Francisco quartet Wooden Shjips, touring their third album proper, West.

Wooden Shjips are an interesting proposition. Band leader and Steve Earle lookalike Ripley Johnson formed Wooden Shjips back in 2003 with non-musicians as a sort of experiment with the hypothesis that with no former training, they would be free to explore and perhaps arrive at the unexpected. The result is a woozy, trance like Doors / Velvet Underground, experience. West is their most accessible album to date. In fact, Johnson apparantly has done everything possible to eschew fame, notoriety and money – avoiding My Space, Wooden Shjips originally pressed their first 10″ vinyl and gave away all 300 copies:

“They knew that what they were doing wasn’t going to be profitable, but Johnson was a big fan of impenetrable albums and arcane small-press poetry books, having grown fascinated by books that go unread for decades or out of print albums that are finally rediscovered by collectors and praised as lost gems. With that in mind, the band set about to make purposely obscure records that Johnson envisioned leaving in libraries, thrift store bargain bins, and on park benches.” shopformusic.com

So Sunday night proved to be a wholly satisfying undertaking. We didn’t see the opening act, because they were all sitting down at the couch end (that is, opposite end of the bar to the stage) – B scouted the proposition and reported back that all six members were over sixty, and the guy singing was sitting cross legged on the floor.  Happily though, they actually proved that being a hippy douchebag doesn’t mean you can’t lay down some heavy rock slabs. I wish I could remember their name.

Wooden Shjips were a sight to behold. Instead of a light show, they had patterned coloured projections play across them – kind of a modern retro take on the original Pink Floyd oil on water OHP light shows. To watch them in action added a dimension I had overlooked – the rolling, repetitive rhythms are emphasized live by just watching the discipline of their delivery. The rhythm section, (Dusty Jermier on  bass, drummer Omar Ahsanuddin) didn’t even appear to be able to enjoy the set, they were so entranced, so focussed. But enjoy they did,  capping a broad spectrum show that featured segments from their many 7 and 10″ releases with double encore. This included a crowd pleasing ‘local number’ a Shjipsified  Buddy  by Flying Nun act Snapper (which you may recall as covered on The Fanatics EP.)

There are heaps of tracks available on Grooveshark, so go check them out.  I haven’t listened to anything but Wooden Shjips for the past three days.

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