Wooden Shjips * The Fresh & Onlys * Mugstar live review

Posted on 8 September 2011
By Richard Lewis
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With their new album released on ultra-hip label Thrill Jockey and a packed Kazimier decisively won over, Wooden Ships are seriously threatening to break into the public consciousness in a big way.

Flagged as one of the gigs of the year, the San Franciscan’s debut gig on Merseyside didn’t disappoint, with the quartet turning in a mesmerising performance.

Launching into their set with minimal introduction, the swirling light show obscured the band for the first few songs, as they powdered through tracks from their imminent third LP, West.

Led by Ripley Johnson, the psych/space rock quartet sounded stronger live than on record, the songs coming alive onstage, the Velvet Underground comparisons shored up by Johnson’s guitar clangour.

With the majority of the band’s songs based around endlessly looped motifs, the four piece weren’t afraid to improvise, teasing out the endings of songs, exploring wherever the music took them next.

The bludgeoning basslines of Close Encounters-era Steven Spielberg look-alike Dusty Jermier were well to the fore.

Threatening to overwhelm the sound at points, the four string assault was kept in check by the white noise swirl of the keyboards.

The twisting riff of key track Lazy Bones from the new LP received the biggest reception; the Californians’ return visit to the city cannot come soon enough.

Prior to the ‘Shjips taking to the stage, fellow Frisco natives The Fresh & Onlys played to an audience of almost the same size.

In contrast to the heaviosity of the main attraction, the band deal in sixties influenced guitar pop with a serrated edge supplied by bouts of jagged distortion.

Finding their feet mid-set, the quartet’s best known song, Waterfall cantered past superbly, coming across like a lost gem from Fables of the Reconstruction period R.E.M.

The deep, reverbed vocals of lead singer Tim Cohen cut through the Brydsian guitars, the vocalist not looking entirely dissimilar to Thirteenth Floor Elevators legend Roky Eriksson.

Aside from a few songs based around standard-issue indie building blocks of Phil Spector drum intros and scruffy lead guitar lines a la The Strokes, the group have their own idiosyncratic sound, winning over scores of new converts.

Liverpool’s very own Mugstar opened the evening and began the astral voyage in earnest, playing to a sizeable audience early on.

The John Peel championed quartet are a strong live draw in the city, the progressive veterans a big enough attraction to have played The Kazimier in their own right.

Photos by Marie Hazlewood