Some old folks may remember the early hype & interest around the band PAVEMENT around 1989-90. They’d put out two strange, semi-experimental frazzled pop/noise 45s on two tiny independent labels & then a cleaner but still whomping 10”EP called “Perfect Sound Forever”. Yet they’d never shown their face in a live venue, and all most of us knew about them was they there were two mystery dudes from Stockton, CA named “SM” and “Spiral Stairs” and an older drummer/producer who sorta tagged along with them. When they finally announced a live show, in San Francisco around late 1990 or so, a lot of us were pretty friggin’ excited to see what they’d be like. Sadly, they were simply awful live, and I remember leaving four or five songs in – and this at a time when I never left shows early to catch up on sleep. I never dared see them live again, but I’d imagine they turned into something marginally decent, given the band’s burgeoning reputation long after I’d lost interest.
No such critical fate is likely to befall San Francisco’s WOODEN SHJIPS after their debut show this past Monday at SF’s Café Du Nord. The Shjips, who last year put out two of the most exciting slices of raw vinyl power I’ve heard in ages (hard, dark, stretched-out psych with heavy doses of Suicide, Velvet Underground and Thirteenth Floor Elevators as reference points), are at a similar figurative point that Pavement were 17 years ago, but all signs point to them being the better band. First, they didn’t dick around. Three songs, over and out. Sure, each one was about 8-10 minutes long, and featured layer upon layer of droning, building, weaving guitar feedback & deep-lid astral navigation, while being firmly rooted in the proto-punk canon. In fact, did I say something about “raw power”? Their third song, “Death’s Not Your Friend”, the only one they played from the records, flat-out apes the riff from THE STOOGES’ “Raw Power” , but it’s done in such an understated way it only dawned on me when I watched it pummeled into the ground live for ten minutes. Second, without knowing these guys at all personally, you just hear things in their sound that you don’t hear elsewhere – e.g., it’s not all referential, recycled BS from marginal musicians with great record collections. If it was I wouldn’t be nearly as pumped about ‘em as I am. Just listen to their second 45, “Dance, California/Cloud Over Earthquake” . I hear biker rock, experimental 60s soundtrack work, the Velvets – and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard stuff wholly unrelated to any of these touchpoints, they’re just critical markers for unimaginative bloggers like me.
The net effect after 3 songs was a host of frothing rock fans who were half out for blood for such a “short” set & half stoked that they’d been left so rabidly wanting more, and surprised that the band were so on fire their very first show. I was greeted with the news that the Wooden Shjips are set to play at least two more local shows in the next couple months (one opening for Roky Erickson -their Myspace page indicates there are also some Austin, TX shows coming up) and I guess I’ll have to chain myself to them now, the way I did with certain bands in the eighties when I was 20 years old. In the process, by overhyping my new favorite band I’ll undoubtedly contribute to “the Pavement effect”, helping dozens of their current fans out the door and on to new sensations. Anything I can do to help, fellas!