- The Lucid Dream
Hot on the heels of their first album release in five years, WOODEN SHJIPS set sail once more, and it will be interesting to see how the somewhat softer grooves of this year’s V translate to the live arena. Not that they have abandoned their motorik base altogether, but the direction hinted at on These Shadows, the salient track from 2013’s Back To Land, provides the template for V; furthermore, songs like Red Line and Already Gone have added a more obviously melodic, dare I say poppier, slant to the driving, unsettling core.
Harvest Sun have provided us with a full bill tonight, support coming from Melbourne’s MILDLIFE, on their first European venture, and Cumbria’s THE LUCID DREAM, long-time favourites on the Liverpool psych scene.
The Invisible Wind Factory is busy early; an attentive crowd providing a warm enough welcome for Mildlife’s extended, proggy grooves that become more engaging as the set progresses, with the tempo increasing and vocals kicking in.
The Lucid Dream obviously have their own fanbase in the room and when they launch into an instantly danceable groove there’s no shortage of takers. Mark Emerson constantly switches between guitar and synth, occasionally adding an Augustus Pablo-esque melodica vibe in a nod to their dub influences. The shifting textures keeping things fresh throughout the set as his echo-laden vocals worm their way into the mix. It’s a hugely enjoyable performance from a band that command headline slots themselves.
The crowd is now pretty much at capacity as Ripley Johnson walks out for a brief line-check. A few bluesy licks are fired off, people in the crowd grinning from ear to ear; a palpable sense of expectation simmers.
An ambient soundscape announces Wooden Shjips and they launch into V opener Eclipse, with its classic 60s garage rhythms accompanied by flickering black and white lights that look like bad television reception from the same era. Drummer Omar Ahsanuddin and bassist Dusty Jermier are on driving, metronomic repeat, Nash Whalen’s keys drone woozily throughout and Johnson’s guitar is fuzzed up and echoey. His voice has a lovely, light quality to it but his words are quite unintelligible – the vocals becoming another instrument that carries sweet melodies above the hypnotic mix.
They go on to somewhat confound expectations by playing a set that includes only three new tracks and is culled from several of their previous recordings, ensuring a hard-driving, trance-dance of a ride. Not that there isn’t some shade among the brilliant light, V’s Ride On and Staring At The Sun being cases in point; the former a hazy, elegiac blues, a beautiful slow burn, heads in the crowd nodding in unison, and the latter already sounding like a classic, Whalen’s keyboard repetitions ripple out to mingle with the preceding note, like slow, heavy raindrops falling onto the surface of a calm lake. Visually, there is no overt politicising, no tanks, no Molotovs, no whales, but a constant shower of vibrant patterned light covers the band in an abstract, shifting evocation of the music.
Flight, Ruins, and Lazy Bones increase the intensity. Echoes of surf, garage and rockabilly are found amid the pulsating rhythms. An over-excitable mosh-pit develops centre stage. Someone, obviously unaware that the song he is crashing about to is entitled Death’s Not Your Friend, climbs on stage and then proceeds to leap heedlessly back into the crowd, parting them in a flurry of spectacles and phones, before smashing onto the concrete floor. (In a brief chat with bassist Dusty Jermier after the gig I ask him if tonight’s crowd reaction is the norm and, in typically laconic West Coast fashion, he raises an eyebrow and replies, “Well, we always get people dancing, but they don’t usually injure themselves.”)
They encore with a sublime These Shadows and their favourite cover, Snapper’s Buddy, which pounds and swirls with heady abandon. These Wooden Shjips are not lake-bound pleasure steamers, condemned to circle forever. They’re Viking longboats, rowed with rhythmic intensity, constantly seeking out new horizons.
Johnson’s “Thank you, goodnight” reverberates around the room above deafening applause. A definite contender for gig of the year.