Thanks to everyone who made it down to the Wooden Shjips show last night, not least of course the band themselves. A very hot and ecstatic night at Club Uncut, and it was pretty clear that this is a band who are really – and deservedly – loved by their fans.
I’ve written a fair bit about the band here, especially in this review of their “Dos” album. Over the course of an hour and a quarter or so tonight, all the same reference points come to the surface: Spacemen 3, Loop, the Velvets, Dinger-driven Neu!, Ray Manzarek, Suicide, evil Stereolab, Family Dog happenings and so on.
It’s worth noting, though, that one of the pleasures of Wooden Shjips is how unself-consciously they channel their influences. Although it’s hard to make out exactly what he’s saying because of all the reverb, singer/guitarist Ripley does seem to introduce one song as a Spacemen 3 cover, the sort of direct referencing that most derivative bands would shy away from. I have to say it was hard to work out which Spacemen 3 song, exactly (if anyone spotted it, please let me know), not least because: a) so many of their own songs could, happily, have been Spacemen covers; and b) Ripley ploughs off on a giant solo, the like of which is a whole world away from anything ever played by arch-minimalists like Sonic Boom and Jason Pierce.
Ripley does this a lot, so much so that it’s hard to think of a dronerock band who jam so joyously and uninhibitedly as Wooden Shjips, and who can maintain the requisite motorik hum while simultaneously freaking out. By the encores, they’ve wheeled out their delirious, Velvetsy cover of Neil Young’s “Vampire Blues”, which indicates another place where Ripley draws some of his inspiration from.
This is one way in which Wooden Shjips effortlessly supersede pretty much any other dronerock band extant. Another is their incredibly hardworking rhythm section, whose locked grooves have an agility and, after a fashion, funkiness. They’re at their strongest – as the band is in general – when they accelerate, keeping it tight while Ripley and Nash Whalen on tinfoil-covered organ extemporise wildly over the top.
“We Ask You To Ride”, on record one of the band’s cleanest and most accessible tracks, is typical of how this terrific show goes, transformed into something more frenzied and snarling, a psychedelic freak-out to rank alongside the likes of “Motorbike”. Even a malfunctioning bass amp can’t stop them for long.