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Wooden Shjips - Audio, Brighton - December 9 2013 (Live Review)

Friday, 13 December 2013 Written by Graeme Marsh

Hot on the heels of their brilliant psychedelic drone rock album ‘Back To Land’, Portland-based Wooden Shjips set off on a nine-date American tour before hitting Europe in December. The small UK and Ireland leg of the trek began in the modest surroundings of Brighton’s Audio nightclub, just a stone’s throw from the city’s famous pier and ferris wheel.

“Isn’t that bloke in the band?” murmured an inquisitive member of the ageing crowd assembled in the dark and gloomy basement as a disinterested looking man sporting a big, curly, grey mop of hair took to the stage and started shifting gear around.

When keyboardist Nash Whalen was then joined by bassist Dusty Jermier it became clear to all that the unlikely duo were indeed in the band, and also undertaking roadie duties.

Drummer Omar Ahsanuddin then made it three before guitar wizard Ripley Johnson, sporting his distinctive grey/black beard, completed the quartet. Each member slightly tested their own gear before, without introduction, launching head on into the drone-fest of Black Smoke Rise from 2011’s L.A-influenced ‘West’.

The track immediately captivated the audience. Whalen’s swirling, hypnotic keyboards twisted and writhed around the persistent, tightly controlled rhythm section of Jermier and Ahsanuddin. With the canvas prepared, the artist that is Johnson weaved his guitar and mesmerising vocal contributions adeptly over the top.

Billed as a ‘Back To Land’ tour, it came as a complete surprise to see only two songs from the recent album performed on the night, the first appearing next in the shape of Other Stars, with the song continuing the psych overload.  The sonic excursions reverberated throughout the tiny venue, with a visual accompaniment of psychedelic, flashing imagery adorning the stage backdrop to encourage a zoned out state.

‘Dos’ was the biggest contributor to the night’s setlist, with Motorbike and Fallin’ both lifted from the album before the second ‘Back To Land’ track appeared with the excellent repetitive boogie of Ruins. Johnson’s guitar is the vital ingredient that both elevates the sound to a higher plain and also provides the distinctive individuality of each carefully crafted gem. The confines of such a small basement unfortunately drowned out a lot of the guitar mastery and this was most evident on the next track – another ‘Dos’ effort – For So Long, where his meanderings were often lost in the psychedelic mist.

Brilliant slow burner Flight from ‘West’ then soared, its mesmerising beat pummelling the minds of the onlookers for seven odd minutes of drone pleasure. Death’s Not Your Friend closed the set, the band leaving the stage via a rather makeshift curtain that provided the backdrop to the stage, to rapturous applause. Within a minute they had returned for their one and only encore number, the excellent Buddy, a cover of an obscure track by New Zealand drone rock band Snapper.

As the lights returned to normal, the crowd began filtering out, with the thoroughly compelling visual performances from each band member likely to be ingrained on their minds for some time to come. Whalen’s persistent spaced-out stare, the fully bearded Jermier’s upright bass positioning and lack of movement, bar the odd head turn, Ahsanuddin’s enthusiastic bouncing style and Johnson’s snake-like guitar weaving all contributed to an entrancing sight that will hopefully be recreated in the near future. The show could only have been enhanced by the quite excellent title track from ‘Back To Land’ – maybe next time, Ripley.

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