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LIVE REPORT: Wooden Shjips
Nick Hutchings , July 1st, 2014 08:24

Nick Hutchings voyages deep into his own mind at the Electric Ballroom in London. Photo with thanks to shot2bits.net

The first ever gig I attended was at the second incarnation of the Marquee watching Terminal Cheesecake. While the music droned and nagged incessantly at my untrained earlobes, a looping video of what looked like erstwhile Dr. Who Jon Pertwee in more menacing form garotted a hapless victim over and over again. It was both an ear-opening and eye-opening experience.

Now imagine hopping into a blue police phone box and opening it up over 20 years later and walking out into the Electric Ballroom. Up on stage are Wooden Shjips. The organist Nash Whalen actually looks like Pertwee, maybe with a dash of Noddy Holder if I was being unkind. His keyboard is covered with silver tin-foil, possibly alien resistant. Stage left is charismatic band leader Erik 'Ripley' Johnson. If you squint your eyes, which is necessary given the blinding storing visuals which probably wouldn't pass TV's Harding test, he could almost be the first Doctor William Hartnell, crossed with Warren Ellis of the Bad Seeds. Wooden Shjips now, unlike Terminal Cheesecake back then, make total sense to me. I am fully ready, like the Doctor to go on a journey into space. A voyage into the space in my head. I am under the hypnotic, psychedelic spell of a band who play like Can can, only faster.

A glance around a packed out Ballroom floor is evidence enough that Wooden Shjips are a cult band, but in more than one sense. Firstly, they are all dressed in white. All the crowd have beards. Well nearly all. I feel positively naked. Everyone is swaying as if under the band's hypnotic spell. The band look as if they have been captured in time and their essence bottled in the Haight-Ashbury circa '67. And yet, if you let it, that music can transport you anywhere, from space to a psychotropic jungle - powered by the driving clatter of Omar Ahsanuddin who drums like he has bullet ants in his pants. If you stare at the visuals long enough your pupils make like Mowgli's after staring at Kaa the snake turning into psychedelic swirls as the hits become recognisable.

Although support band Föllakzoid's own earlier 30 minute three song chugging trance was enjoyable, Wooden Shjips' locked-in grooves never out-stay their welcome. Although songs from West, like opener 'Black Smoke Rise' are tense and insistent, the most rabidly enjoyed tunes came from last year's Back To Land, where the songs not only take you to space, but find space within themselves.

By the time they career into 'Lazy Bones' from the way out West, the middle of the crowd has turned on a nickel from a mind-controlled dazed sway into a psyched-out slam dance. The crackle of the TV interference that bathes the band in a chronic white light begins to form recognisable pictures, like obscure channels from other dimensions have been picked up by the satellite qualities of Whalen's silvery keyboard and his heavy-handed frequency oscillations.

The crowd leave with tinnitus and rictus grins after an encore which features a cover of 'Buddy' by Flying Nun band Snapper. Much like my first ever gig at the Electric Ballroom, I am already outside, drenched in sweat and racing to catch the last train back to the 'burbs. I daren't put Wooden Shjips on my headphones, nor do I need to; my own ears are still ringing as if Nash Whalen is still hammering that organ inside my head.

 

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