Wooden Shjips @ the Doug Fir Lounge 1/16/2014 (with Plankton Wat)
Last Thursday I saw psych rock revivalists Wooden Shjips and psych-influenced guitarist Plankton Wat (Dewey Mahood of Portland) at the Doug Fir Lounge. Wooden Shjips are promoting their new album Back to Land, and Mahood his newest album Drifter’s Temple. It was a hell of a good night for music. I showed up around 8:15, quickly ate some dinner outside the doors and then met up with my friend Sean. After chatting by the fire with a guy we had met at the door, I ran downstairs to catch Plankton Wat’s set.
A soft-spoken, genial guy, Mahood had brought onstage with him his old buddy from the band Edibles, Dusty Dyvbig, on drums. They were a potent combination, with Plankton’s virtuosic, mysteriously beautiful soloing gradually mutating into driving, reverb-heavy psychedelic hard rock. Sean had apparently never heard of Plankton before, and he was visibly blown away by the set. I was just glad I got to expose him to it!
Mahood has, for a while now, been a highly-respected staple player not just of the Portland scene, but of the psychedelic drone worldwide phenomenon we’ve been having since the early 200’s– last November he played at the Liverpool International Psych Festival. I also think I missed him, along with Eternal Tapestry and Dragging an Ox Through Water, at Portland’s Secret Society in December. The last time I saw him was last year as an opener for Blues Control. It was good to catch up with this guy’s path again! I should relisten to Drifter’s Temple, his album from last year, a few more times again soon. I was impressed particularly with the live version of “Hash Smuggler’s Blues” from off this album.
Wooden Shjips is a mostly-krautrock-influenced act that strongly stresses locked-in riffs and rhythms, with faint echoes here and there of other, more bluesy, 70’s legends like Pink Floyd, Canned Heat, and Blue Cheer. They’re sort of a minimalist psychedelic-hard-rock band– there’s an inexplicably mellow affect to their music, even though it can get pretty loud. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Wooden Shjips just make me feel pleasant. They’re not exactly trying to reinvent the wheel, they just seem like they’re having fun making music that’s good to chill to. According to Matthew Singer of Willamette Weekly and Robert Ham (of my staple music blog, Experimental Portland), they recently relocated to Portland. It’s easy to imagine that they’ll probably end up getting attached to the laid-back ambience of the Rose City.
I liked Wooden Shjips’s new album (which I had missed from 2013, and listened to a few days before the show) more than their earlier stuff (I’ve listened to West, Dos, and Vol. 2 so far). In particular, I loved the opening title track, which had a cool music video that reminded me a little of an Antonioni film, with ghostly mimes in a creepily empty suburban landscape. I hope that this next comment doesn’t come off as an insult, but even though Wooden Shjips is essentially a band with only one song, it’s a pretty good song. And in a live setting, you really get pulled into the groove.
Wooden Shjips stepped onstage amid flurries of sidereal psychedelic background-projection-art that sent us all off on the beginnings of a cosmic body-trip. I didn’t look around very much in the show, but when I did I saw that almost everyone was standing still with heads gently bent and swaying. I was really excited to hear “Other stars” and “Ruins”, my other favorite tracks off the new record, and perhaps my favorite Wooden Shjips earworms, along with “Flight” off of West. Like Mahood, Wooden Shjips were tactiturn and relaxed. Actually, I don’t remember them even bothering to say two words to us. It didn’t matter though. They were giving us all the soundtrack to our own personal psychedelic psychological mystery dramas. An aspect of their music that brings out this element of a psych-rock show is what you could call the minimalist jamming on some of their longer pieces, such as “Death’s Not Your Friend”, the last song before the encore. Back to Land eschews these kinds of tunes, which I don’t really mind, as I prefer their shorter songs on record, to be honest.
Now that Wooden Shjips have taken up residency in Portland, perhaps they’ll become more of a local fixture. I’m looking forward to seeing them many more times this year.
Photos courtesy of Sean Bradford