When Wooden Shjips’ name appeared on the Norwich Arts Centre listings I was quite excited to spot it and immediately marked it on the calendar, I was even more excited when it was recently announced that regular visitors to Norwich, Gnoomes were added to the bill, making it more like a double-header gig for me.
It felt like half of Norwich’s gig-goers were at Red Rooster over the weekend and if any of them were feeling as knackered as I was then it made things all the more impressive that the Arts Centre was once again totally sold out, on a Monday. Luckily I’d heard that Gnoomes were onstage at 8pm and with my bike off the road I bussed in and just made it in time.
Gnoomes – from Perm, in Russia – are not only a great band but exceptionally lovely and warm, attentive people too. They’ve played Norwich at least four times to my knowledge and I first saw them headlining the NAC in 2016. They were excellent and after the gig I purchased their album Ngan! on vinyl and they all kindly signed it. I missed their visit the following year as it clashed with Red Rooster but they returned once again in 2018 and took the roof off the Playhouse Bar, of all places, with a terrific set alongside support Painted Heathers. Once again they had a new album (Tschak!) which I duly purchased and was amazed when as they were signing it noticed that they had remembered me and dedicated the incription to me by name without my even having to ask, impressive memories they have, or what! I was really moved by that.
So, having arrived just in time I quickly made my way to the front and was immediately impressed by their huge and impressive sound, so powerful with the expanded line-up and the Norwich Arts Centre acoustics. A full 45 minute set absolutely flew by in a mesmeric storm of what many called shoegaze but Gnoomes afficionados know it to be their own brand of what they call stargaze, which is a much better name, mixing psych with some strong and insistent krautrock creating a lucid dreaming feel. This waking life. The guitars are loud and exciting, mixed with effects, synths and incredibly precise drumming. They sound fuller and louder and heavier than on previous visits. The set flowed brilliantly with songs often merging into one another before they closed with a blistering, re-arranged and shortened version of the 16 minute epic Roadhouse, the song that first brought them to my attention. They’ve got a really exciting live edge and the crowd loved it. Established Gnoomes fans and first-timers alike.
I noticed they all took up their positions in the hall for the Wooden Shjips set so I left it until after the gig to visit their merch table. A good five minutes before they took to the stage the main auditorium was packed (and very hot) for Wooden Shjips. Too hot and cramped for me and my tired, achey legs so I spent much of the gig listening from the sidelines, a lot of the time with my eyes closed, just losing myself in the music. It was worth watching too though as the whole of the hall was bathed in psychedelic lights and projections which were as hypnotic and immersive as the music, which was a mix of experimental drone, fuzz and krautrock with soft vocals floating along with it all with a strong hint of Spiritualized. I heard mention that they didn’t engage with the audience much and while I get that I don’t think it was that kind of gig, this was all about being totally submerged in the music and letting it carry you wherever, banter would have probably broken the spell. For me, this gig carried on the musical trip nicely following on as it did from my last set, The Budos Band at Red Rooster on Saturday night.
The NAC barrier was up and the place was rammed but all I saw from the crowd was a sea of backlit, nodding, shoegazing and stargazing heads. Overall this was another immersive and enjoyable gig of welcome musical escapism. Wooden Shjips didn’t completely make me forget my aching bones for the full ninety minutes but Gnoomes certainly did during their 45 minutes and I enjoyed them immensely. I loved both bands but although their music isn’t a million miles apart they were in some ways quite different. Gnoomes’ set had a bite, visceral energy and immediacy about it that really grabbed and excited me whereas Wooden Shjips was more head music boosted by those stunning visuals.
By the time I made it to the merch table the last vinyl copy of Gnoomes’ new album MU! (they are so impressively productive!) was just being sold but once again I was greeted by name and given hugs and a poster (printed by Print to the People), and they then told me they had seen one of my photos on the cover of the menu at the Grosvenor F’ish Bar when they were choosing their meal earlier. They are so attentive, warm and friendly. Someone’s download card had fallen out of the sleeve in the NAC foyer and they even made sure they located the owner of the album and reunited them with it. The following day I headed to Soundclash Records and finally got my own copy of MU! It was only released on Friday (through Rocket Recordings) and Gnoomes had already sold out of their tour copies until they get another batch. I love Gnoomes and hope they’ll be back in Norwich again next year, or sooner.
“San Francisco’s enigmatically named Wooden Shjips play a minimal, droning kind of garage band-influenced psychedelia with a noticeable ’60s Krautrock influence.
Almost unintelligible vocals slip beneath the waves of throbbing minimal rhythms while fuzz tone guitar and shrieking organ freak-outs jump to the foreground and draw you into their primal vortex. It’s not a sound that everyone will love, but one that resonates deeply with former (and present-day) heads and hippies.
When bandleader Ripley Johnson put the band together in 2003 he wasn’t interested in playing gigs or becoming famous. His intention was to find a group of non-musicians and create music with them.
The idea was that untrained players would have a brand new outlook on what music is and bring something fresh to the table, perhaps a blend of the often noisy trance rock of the Velvet Underground and the frenetic mania of the one-hit wonder garage punks of the early ’60s.”