Photos by Frank P. Dupont (we apologize for some blurriness caused by lighting)
I love when a band doesn’t try to replicate their studio sound when they play live and to experience something different, where the songs are played in a way that allows you to seperate the live show from the album. Playing at La Sala Rossa on November 8 along with The High Dials and Birds of Avalon, Wooden Shjips proved to do just that – as well as melt my brain temporarily in the process.
The show started with Montreal’s own, The High Dials (who were previously known as The Datsons, and then The Datson Four – it remains to be seen if another change of name will take place!). As much as I used to love The Datsons, this incarnation of the band didn’t work as well for me. Sure, it’s all played to perfection, with great vocal harmonies and very interesting musical layers, however, not a single song really stood out. Where The Datsons were much more influenced by 60’s mod and early garage bands such as The Sonics, The High Dials now sound like a bit of a washed up version of 90’s-00’s Brit Rock – you’ll hear a bit of Kula Shaker, a bit of Muse – the whole package ready for an arena show. But it simply did not stand out. The songs were begging for more energy (up until the very last song which had a great uptempo coda), something the band can easily incorporate given their musical CV.
North Carolina’s Birds Of Avalon followed. I have to admit, I missed a part of their set as I was outside talking to some friends, but the moment I got in I was sold. Imagine early Jane’s Addiction, and Pavement mixed with Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. Or, in terms of more recent bands: think Dead Meadow meets Black Mountain. This was a groove-oriented band with all members sharing impeccable vocal duties. The same song can switch to stomping 4/4 beat to an irregular one, yet still retaining complete accessibility. I only caught the last 20 minutes or so, but it was good enough for me to go and buy the LP (which came with 3D glasses!). Appropriately enough, this 3rd album of theirs (which is selt-titled) was produced by none other than Mitch Easter, who is best known for his work with R.E.M. and Pavement.
Hitting the stage at around 11h30pm, Wooden Shjips started the set with the first track off their new album ‘West‘, Black Smoke Rise. From the first notes, one was hearing a faster and heavier version of the band than anything they have recorded. The band was extremely tight, rocking, and trippy: it was like they wanted you to dance while you were feeling transported. With every instrument often occupying as much space as the other, guitarist/vocalist Ripley Johnson stood on the right side of the stage for the whole show, wailing out massive guitar solos and effects, playing off the rest of the band. It was like the band was divided in two parts: on one end, you had keyboardist Nash with guitarist/vocalist Ripley often pairing up one kind of texture within the song, and on the other end you had the backbeat provided by bassist Dusty and drummer Omar providing the primitive and repetitive skeletons of the song. And it all worked beautifully.
Compared to the records, the live show is like watching Wooden Shjips on steroids. Though they can often be associated to labels such as drone rock or psychedelia, here you had flashes of early punk, almost like Sister Ray from Velvet Underground meeting Funhouse-era Stooges. If there were mistakes played by anyone during the set, it would seem only the band themselves would know – with Ripley often nodding to Omar when it was time for a song to end.
The only downer of the night was the late start/finish, which led many in the crowd to have to leave before Wooden Shjips’ set was over in order to catch the last subway. I got to stick around and have a chat with each member of the band – I think that Dusty may actually be the nicest person of all time. The rest of the band were super polite, took their time in talking to those sticking around after the show and proved to be 4 very normal guys – maybe because they’re a bit older than your average band, they were just super relaxed (especially Ripley, whose imposing beard should not intimidate you – very cool guy) and didn’t really seem to be preoccupied with any after-party or anything. These are people who are really there for the music, and keep it real.
Thanks to the band’s generosity, I’m proud to announce Them Blue Midnights’ ”Holy Shjit!” contest! I’ve got one signed copy of ”West” (on orange vinyl), 1 signed copy of the latest 7” single ”Phonograph”, as well as (thanks to Dusty who decided to give this to me) an official Wooden Shjips cotton handbag! The bag isn’t signed, but is sure hard to find – both signed vinyl copies were autographed by all 4 members of the band.
To enter the contest, just send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org – Subject Line: Holy Shjit! and put in your name.
The 3 winners will be chosen at random and announced next Friday, November 18. Good luck!
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Special thanks to Paul Carlin for making this all possible.