Tuesday 5 August 2008

Wooden Shjips / The Heads / Teeth Of The Sea – Cargo, 13 July 2008

Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting enjoying an invigorating Żubrówka (thank you for this, Poland), idly perusing Plan B, listening to Stuart Maconie’s Freakzone on the radio. This combination of influences causes my brain to invent the concept of twee-drone. Hmm, it thinks, apropos of not much, I like indie-pop, I like drone-rock, how would it be to combine the two? Could be exciting, no? Later that same evening, Wooden Shjips miraculously read my thoughts and finish what’s been a fine set of staring-into-spaced grooves with a song that sounds like The Primitives’ ‘Thru The Flowers’ filtered through a drug-induced coma. It’s fabulous, woozy and cute, slightly disturbing, fantastically groovy. All hail Wooden Shjips.

First things first, though, we walk into Cargo as Teeth Of The Sea are playing. The room is wracked by bursts of horror film sonics. A fearsome psychedelic lightshow spiralling out into the gloom illuminates band and audience equally. A member of the band with a Flying V is twisting about chaotically, like a lanky-limbed loon. A few notes of trumpet are blasted into the maelstrom, looped and then regurgitated over and over, the brass adding a sinister/melancholy tone to the menacing growl being dredged up by the tormented guitars. Drums are of the stand-up variety (my favourite kind!) adding stark, lonely beats. Aah, it’s like coming in from the cold to a welcoming fire, I immediately feel all cosy and cocooned by the noise and the flickering light; nicely set up for an evening of head-spazzing soundz.

The Heads sound like 1991. As they play, I keep getting cider flashbacks to nights spent in Camden Falcon. This is hardly surprising as The Heads are from 1991, at least, their first single came out in 1994, but they were inspired by stuff that everyone (hello) in 1991 was inspired by: Spacemen 3, Loop, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney. Their guitarist/singer man even has 1991 hair, i.e. a long bob type affair, the same length all the way round, parted in face-curtains (see TFC’s Norman Blake). In 1991 everyone at gigs had this hair, to the point where anyone with short hair just looked really weird and freakish. The Heads sound like a colossal head-crunching meld of their influences, though the Mudhoney bits seem most to the fore – skanky, grubby garage billowing through a typhoon. They create a colossal all-consuming marshland of sound that warps and skews into unholy shapes. Songs stretch and contract, taking your mind with them until you’re standing stupefied by sound, retinas burning from back-projection overload.

And so to Wooden Shjips, a band that have been bothering the Kitten home stereo system frequently this year. I’ve been getting all excited about this gig. Quite rightly, as the Wooden Shjips live experience matches the hype in my head. The singer/guitarer Shjip, Erik Ripley Johnson (good name there) is rocking a splendid beat-wizard look with long hair and longer beard, which clearly just adds to their San Francisco droner rock appeal.

Where The Heads sound like their oil-slide projections; irregular, oozing, splurging in erratic directions, Wooden Shjips pulsate precisely, sending out concentric circles of sound, ripples that expand into infinity, catching you on their journey outwards into space, locking you into their pattern. Their songs start with straight-up garage riffs played heavily, then repeated, repeated, repeated, bulging into spaced mantras. Fuzzed to the max. Organ notes shiver out over the top; snakey, shakey, out of the loop percussion trips the rhythm; motorik drums stick to the beat mercilessly and distant, insanely reverbed vocals occasionally sprout from the thatch of sound. Its sparse, skeletal psychedelia reduced to its vital components and hammered out hard, yet at its heart oddly ethereal. And it has tunes. I try getting ‘Losin’ Time’ out of my head, but it won’t shift. People even dance – proper moves and grooves, not just Head noddings. Sailing into space. It’s the only way to travel.

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