Review and Photography by John Bentley

Wooden Shjips, Manchester Gorilla

I’m always up for a good bit of psychedelia and tonight’s sold-out gig from space-drone-noise rocking San Franciscans Wooden Shjips has been long awaited. Band guitarist Ripley Johnson has recently done UK gigs with his ‘other band’, Moon Duo, but Wooden Shjips appearances here are rare, with the Gorilla gig part of a very short UK tour.

Gabriella Cohen, Manchester Gorilla

Not at all in the far-out vein of Wooden Shjips is support, Gabriella Cohen. With her honeyed voice, Gabriella and her band turn in a charming and splendidly varied set, ranging from a sensitively sung duet to an indie guitar workout with Black Sabbath-ish riffs (called ‘Alien Archives’, I believe). There’s not much information to be found on Ms Cohen unfortunately, but she apparently has an album due out and is clearly someone to look out for.

Wooden Shjips, Manchester Gorilla

If I had a time machine there are certain gigs I would travel back to. One would be a 1967 ‘happening’ in London with the Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd taking us through ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and ‘Astronomy Domine’ to a backdrop of swirling lights and the smell of wacky backy. Bearing in mind a smoke-free entertainment environment now rules out the latter, to recreate the spectacular lights and the trippy ambience the nearest equivalent in 2016 might be a Wooden Shjips gig.

Wooden Shjips, Manchester Gorilla

Wooden Shjips, Manchester Gorilla

However, Wooden Shjips music is not nostalgic psychedelia, but something that is uniquely 21st century, drawing on a fusion of Velvet Underground East Coast / New York minimalism, classic West Coast psych and other elements like techno and krautrock. Repetition is a key element of the sound and it’s a wonder that rhythm section Omah Ahsannudin (drums) and Dusty Jermier (bass) don’t sustain repetitive strain injury, as they lay-down looping riffs for guitarist Johnson and organist Nash Whalen to solo over. As on record, Johnson’s softly sung vocals are low in the sound mix and the words barely decipherable, but that’s the point.

Wooden Shjips, Manchester Gorilla

The setlist is not so important at a Wooden Shjips gig. It’s the groove that’s the thing. The audience gently sway or nod heads to the lengthy tracks the band lay down, with Johnson’s guitar solos heading-off around the cosmos, to a backdrop of ever-changing flickering, flashing lights. Nevertheless the set is mainly based around material from the band’s two most recent breakthrough albums, ‘West’ (2011) and ‘Back to Land’ (2013), featuring favourites like ‘Black Smoke Rise’, ‘Ruins’, ‘Home’ and ‘Everybody Knows’, the latter (from ‘Back to Land’) taking the band further from their early lo-fi experimental sound towards more conventional melody and song structure.

Wooden Shjips, Manchester Gorilla

So, a great gig and one where you can really lose yourself in the hypnotic music and lights, at least if you can find somewhere away from those annoying and distracting folk who insist on talking to their mates instead of just listening.

Wooden Shjips, Manchester Gorilla

Wooden Shjips, Manchester Gorilla

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