Review by Lydia Fitzer with Photography by Rob Hadley

Again with the exciting stuff happening on a Sunday night. Do all gigs happen on Sunday night? Is this a conspiracy? I’m beginning to think so. I’ll never spend a Sunday in front of Netflix again, at this rate.

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The evening begins with The Lucid Dream, hailing from Carlisle. They’re an interesting group who seem to have experimented with a range of styles – in 2018 they’ve been leaning towards a more tech-heavy, acid house type feel. I’ve enjoyed watching this aspect of their sound develop. Several little birdies tell me that we’ll see more of this intense acid house sound in their new album ‘Actualisation’, due for release in October.

Their set opens with the penetrating hammer of ‘Alone in Fear’, their latest record and a hell of a calling card. For me, their work is incredibly easy to enjoy. The build of cymbals echoes in your ears and guitars hum into your chest. Mark Emmerson’s almost nasal vocal is able to soar above a titan instrumental.

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‘Alone in Fear’ drenches you with angst and power. I only wish the band would channel this more physically, because at the moment my eyes can’t find anything to focus on. The band members have positioned themselves in such a way that it’s impossible to distinguish a frontman. This equal placement is quite refreshing to see. However, paired with the fact that they’re reserved on stage, they lose a lot of visual impact. (Wooden Shjips have a special way of avoiding this issue, but more on that later.) Even so, The Lucid Dream make me happy. The vibrations tickle my feet and make me smile.

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Partway through their set, Mike Denton (bass) and Emmerson come to life with new energy. They build up into a massive sound, thrumming from the strength of it. I keep thinking they’re about to dial it down, but it stretches on into eternity. Honestly, it goes on and on. Very few bands could get away with such a drawn-out climax, and the fact that they pull it off is a mark of real talent. Have you seen the film ‘Whiplash’? If not, you should watch it – it’s pretty good. There’s a scene at the end where the main character has this huge Charlie Parker moment. He performs a ridiculous drum solo and seals his fate as a musical prodigy. I’m reminded of that scene.

The Lucid Dream’s set is only three songs long (boo!), but it lasts half an hour and features a sneaky performance of the as-yet unreleased ‘Ardency’ (yay!). They finish their final notes of ‘Epitaph’ then leave the stage abruptly. I can’t help imagining them flouncing a cape and disappearing into a puff of smoke.

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Wooden Shjips open their set with fragments of sound and a TV static type lighting effect. The lights pulsate as the beat creeps in, and I find myself being hypnotised by ‘Eclipse’. This is the opening song of their 2018 album ‘V.’, and a gorgeous representation of their ‘garage-styled psychedelia’. The firm bass and drum instrumentals, layered with murmuring vocals from Erik ‘Ripley’ Johnson, are entrancing.

I’m thrilled that they play ‘Ride On’, as it’s one of my favourite songs of theirs. It has a different feel to most of their work, which is probably why it’s not as popular as it deserves to be. I love it because it’s so different and unexpected. Finding it at the end of ‘V.’ felt like finding a surprise fiver in my wallet. It brings the atmosphere right down to a classic moment in time. You could be slowdancing with your beau in a community hall the night before they sail away to war.

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For the whole show so far, I’ve been trying to work out what I find so enchanting about Johnson’s voice. Listening to ‘Ride On’, I finally know. It’s because it’s so human. It could be you as you hum into your pillow, or sing quietly as you look at the evening sky. It’s you at your most intimate moment, when there’s no-one to listen.

Like The Lucid Dream, Wooden Shjips don’t give visual precedence to any member of the band. Centre front of the stage is left empty, and the lighting effects serve to veil the band from the eyes of their audience. This a clever way to get around the problem of the band not giving as much of a physical performance. They’re able to get lost in the music without worrying that the audience don’t have much to look at – the lighting effects are more than enough. The ever-changing lights paired with the music create a synesthetic experience. By the time they reach the sixth song of their set, ‘Flight’ (from their 2011 album ‘West), I’m in a meditative state. I’m transfixed by the patterns of light. Although it must be subjective, I’m seeing hundreds of different human eyes. I feel as though I’m scrying, and I wonder what truth is hidden.

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When their set ends they say ‘Thank you’ and quietly retreat, but are quickly called back for an encore. The introduction to their most popular song, ‘These Shadows’ (from their 2013 album ‘Back to Land’), feels like new life in spring. Hearing it performed live makes it easy to see why it’s so well-loved by their fans. It has all their best features; a sense of floating, understated instrumental skill, the softest vocal that whispers. It makes you feel weightless. They end on a very special cover of Snapper’s ‘Buddy’. It’s massive, soaring and uplifting. It’s translated so beautifully into the style of Wooden Shjips that you would never have thought it was written by someone else.

I’m often wary of reviewing bands which self-identify as psychedelic. Psychedelic music aims to be an immersive experience, but I tend to find that bands become so immersed in their own experience that they forget to consider how it comes across to their audience. Wooden Shjips, though, are really on another level. They led me into a trance, and I leave their show feeling completely refreshed. Diversity is great, and every band should be different, but theirs is the standard to which budding psychedelic musicians should aspire.

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