Ripley Johnson by Ian Port

Ripley Johnson by Ian Port


Marbled acid-fade projection paints the tin-foil armoured synth tower looming monolithic over Manchester’s Gorilla. ‘American Girl’ is playing, and ultra-fuchsia beams cross themselves in waves of vapour – fighting for air with the mixtape that is most-likely titled ‘1977-1992’. This is clearly an environment that’s been groomed by bearded galaxy-eater Ripley Johnson and his band of San Franciscan drone-psych veterans.

Formed in 2006 out of Johnson’s’ taste for free-form New York minimalism and an on-going love-affair with a Velvet Underground bootleg cassette that solely features four different versions of ‘Sister Ray’, Wooden Shjips have been traversing the desert of transcendental psychedelia and primitive, groove-laden repetition since 2006, but have most recently found themselves in the arms of a sugar-cane oasis with 2013’s ‘Back To Land’. Although a disconnect from the sinister, fuzzed-out apparitions of the band’s 2011 breakthrough ‘West’, ‘Back To Land’ still sees the gang-of-four channelling auto-hypnosis, but demonstrates a new desire to counter-balance their night-crawling drive with melancholic balladry. However, the subtle gestures of laconic AM-radio sweetness that decorate their latest release are forgotten when it comes to the Thrill Jockey signee’s live voyage. Everything is mesmeric and cut-throat.

Gloom-glider ‘Black Smoke Rise’ is pure West-Coast motion, with Johnson’s abducting Airline 59 3P – black and gleaming, creating a ticker-tape eye bath of journeying void that manages to mirror the effects of light beating its way through shut eyes: all technicolour and dancing and ephemeral. Sibling earth-mover ‘Flight’ continues this sonic exploration of leaving and entering – wrapping double-helix fluidity around the evening’s shoulders. ’Everybody Knows’, the country-tinged sad astronaut of the set, provides necessary respite from the propellant Percocet trip – demonstrating the band’s ability to abandon the crutch of distorted urgency and embrace melody and space without losing any motorik momentum in the process.

Following the sun-scarred molasses of ‘These Shadows’, the behemoth, 70-minute set is finally reduced to an endless static loop. The band leave the stage without acknowledging the room – most likely holding some sort of fear that a cheap farewell would ground the orchestrated levitation, but with eyes still filled with space-odyssey cosmos long after leaving the sub-railway venue, it’s hard to imagine their spell being so easily broken.

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James Musker

Music Journalism student and lover of all things sensory and cosmic.