When the Wooden Shjips Come In

November 11th, 2011

Wooden Shjips – Music Hall of Williamsburg – November 10, 2011

(Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

As overused as the term psychedelic is when describing music, it’s worth noting that there’s a world of difference between music that might have a trippy-sounding synth line and music that carries listeners off into another world entirely. Wooden Shjips, drawing heavily on the latter, had its otherworldly sound on full display last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Specializing in hypnotic guitar drones that push listeners deep into the rabbit hole, the quartet takes psychedelic rock reminiscent of late-’60s California and gives it a noise-rock update. Their heady jams had much of the audience dancing in a limb-flailing go-go dance you might expect to see in footage from Andy Warhol’s Factory. The projections behind the band showcased the blend of these two worlds, replacing the usual multicolored swirls of ’60s psychedelic projections with black-and-white pulsating pixels that looked like a cross between television static and raining glitter. The projections at times seemed to swallow the band whole, displayed over its members’ white shirts and reflecting off what looked like a tinfoil cape hanging from Nash Whalen’s organ.

Showcasing a minimalist restraint, the real allure of Wooden Shjips’ sound wasn’t derived from any one part in particular but in how these sonic elements combined and interacted with one another. Distortion-heavy guitar solos ripped through the repetitive thuds of basslines, and Ripley Johnson’s reverb-drenched vocals cut through eerie organ lines like an incoming radio transmission. The expansive noise-hypnosis of Wooden Shjips contrasted nicely with the opener, Birds of Avalon. The Raleigh, N.C., foursome mesmerized the audience with jam-band grooves that took sudden and unexpected turns toward rock-the-fuck-out heavy guitar riffs. For a cold and rainy autumn night in Brooklyn, music invoking nostalgia for the sunnier yesteryear of the American West was a welcomed retreat. —Dan Rickershauser