By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the leading players in the Bay Area’s revival of psychedelic sounds that emerged in the wake of Comets on Fire and Six Organs of Admittance in the late ’90s, Wooden Shjips play their first San Francisco show in several years at Slim’s Friday.
Founded by guitarist and principle songwriter Erik “Ripley” Johnson in the early 2000s with the aim of creating a primitive style of psychedelic rock, eventually assembling the current line-up of drummer Omar Ahsanuddin, bassist Dusty Jermier and keyboardist Nash Whalen to record their first self-released 10-inch EP Shrinking Moon For You that came out in 2006. With hypnotic grooves, howling, fuzzed-out guitar and driving beats, the songs on the debut nodded to the spellbinding pulse of the Velvet Underground and Suicide as well as minimalist composer Terry Riley.
The EP and a subsequent pair of singles for the Sick Thirst label brought the quartet to wider attention, earning rave reviews from critics. Their initial full-length recordings — the eponymous 2007 album and the suitably titled follow-up Dos two years later, both for noted imprint Holy Mountain — scored more effusive praise and invitations to tour Europe with fellow psych explorers the Heads and appear at several All Tomorrows Parties festivals curated by the likes of My Bloody Valentine and film director Jim Jarmusch. Johnson would also start his side project Moon Duo with wife Sanae Yamada, exploring a similar if more electronic psych sound with great success.
While Johnson and Ahsanuddin would decamp from San Francisco after the release of the band’s first album for established indie label Thrill Jockey (West in 2011), relocating to Portland where the band would record its next effort Back to Land that embraced a brighter sound without abandoning their mesmerizing signature drone. That 2013 recording would be the quartet’s last for a number of years as Johnson concentrated on Moon Duo and even considered the possibility that Back to Land might be Wooden Shjips’ swan song.
Almost five years later, the band reconvened and conjured up its latest collaboration, the shimmering new album V. A more languid, laid-back affair than past recordings, songs like the smoldering epic “Staring at the Sun” and the cosmic, country-tinged “Already Gone” mark what might be Wooden Shjips most overt mix of gorgeous sunshine pop hooks and interstellar overdrive. After performing at this year’s edition of the psychedelic Levitation Festival in Austin, TX, as well as last weekend’s Nelsonville Music Festival in Ohio, the outfit tops a stellar three-band bill of psych groups for this (((folkYEAH!))) presented show at Slim’s on Friday night ahead of an appearance at the Huichica Festival at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma on Saturday.
Opening power trio Carlton Melton has been putting out its guitar-heavy soundscapes for the better part of the last decade. Made up of guitarist/synth player Rich Millman, drummer/guitarist Andy Duvall (both former members of late, lamented SF blues-punk Zen Guerilla) and bassist/drummer Clint Golden, the band kicks off the show with a set of freewheeling improvisational jams. Also appearing will be relative newcomer Terry Gross featuring local guitar vet Phil Manley (Trans Am, The F–king Champs, Life Coach), bass player Donny Newenhouse (Film School, Hot Fog, Buffalo Tooth) and drummer Phil Becker (Pins of Light, ex-Triclops and Lower Forty-Eight). Contrary to what you might expect from a band named after the unflappably calm NPR interviewer, the threesome bashes out a kinetic, krautrock-influenced grooves. The band recently released it’s debut recording, a two-song 10″ vinyl EP out on Valley King Records.