Published Nov 09, 2011Wooden Shjips brought their travelling psychedelic roadshow to Toronto for the first time, giving fans a heady dose of the band's pedal-happy, blissed-out beanbag-chair music. The Shjips had no trouble setting a comfortable groove, unveiling tunes from their newest long-player, West. The 420-friendly crowd got right on down to the foursome's gritty garage-coated space rock, swaying to the impressively grey-bearded Ripley Johnson's shamanistic vocals and fat-free guitar. Heavier, and perhaps more traditionally psychedelic than their brother band Moon Duo, the Shjips didn't move around much, preferring to play off each other's component pieces of their bong-rattling explorations through space and time.
The problem with Wooden Shjips, which is certainly not limited to them but endemic to many of the new practitioners of neo-psychedelia, is that they aren't the most interesting band to watch live. Creating a repetitive formal pattern is a big part of their modus operandi and makes for great music for a casual listen, or to experiment with drugs to, but it feels a little insular performed live.
This isn't to say that Wooden Shjips are a one-trick pony; in fact, they're very accomplished musicians who create a multi-layered sound experience within a specific melodic structure, and what they do with that structure is what makes them interesting. It's just that the idiom they've chosen may best be suited to a pair of headphones.
Warm-ups Birds of Avalon played a somewhat tentative but amiable set of Southern-fried rock'n'roll. Influenced in equal measure by early grunge and '70s boogie rock, their riff-heavy spectacle and patented rock moves played like a more socially acceptable jam band, or a more commercial version of Royal Trux. A much needed dose of humour might take these rare Birds to the next level, although their psychedelic light show was a welcome throwback.