It takes a very special kind of band to, at least in the right setting, meddle with one’s most basic understanding of time. Wooden Shjips are one such band. Tonight at Belfast’s Empire Music Hall, the San Francisco psych rock alchemists’ reiterative, lysergic-dappled craft induces a trip that all but stretches the parameters of chronological perception.
Laying the groundwork is one of the country’s most singular solo talents, Cian Nugent (below). Despite almost being consumed by the frankly shameful hubbub of tonight’s growing crowd, he casts a subtle, yet potent spell as tonight’s sole support. Stripped-back and drawn-out is the order of the day for a set that – aside from a couple of newer tracks – mainly draws from his 2016 masterstroke Night Fiction. With his remarkable fingerstyle guitar playing taking centre-stage throughout (and there are several brief moments of majesty throughout) ‘Lost Your Way’ and ‘First Run’ make for highlights from the Dubliner.
Five years on from their nigh on mythical, eardrum-drubbing show at the Menagerie just around the corner, Wooden Shjips’ return to Belfast tonight is met with a strong Monday night turn-out. Opening on ‘Eclipse’, the lead track from their new album, V., Ripley Johnson and co. air some of the more hypnotic cuts from their five studio albums to date (the bombastic garage groove of ‘For So Long’ from their 2009 EP Dos and the Hawkwindian Other Stars from 2013’s Back To Land prove just two highlights early on.)
But it’s around the six-songs-in mark that the aforementioned sensory modification sets in. With the cyclical, tripped-out bliss of ‘Flight’, ‘Ruins’ and ‘Lazy Bones’ successively hitting home, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell if the Shjips have been playing for 15 minutes, an hour or all night. Eternity becomes a moment, and a minute feels like an hour. A slow glance around the room finds a sea of dazed faces, closed eyes and swaying bodies, each locked into its very own groove. Bowing out on an encore consisting of Back to Land highlight ‘These Shadows’ – and driven home by some of the finest psyched-out visuals imaginable – it all makes for faculty-warping, interior-monologue-silencing, spirit-stoking masterclass from easily one of the finest live bands in existence. Brian Coney
Photos by Liam Kielt