“There ain’t no Santa Claus on the evenin’ stage”. When Captain Beefheart wrote these words it would seem most unlikely that he was thinking about the Brudenell boards, for up there tonight there are four Father Christmas all offering up presents. In a snowstorm of kaleidoscopic light they have come to their favourite venue bearing the gift of music. Theirs is the sound of freedom, wrapped up in a message that there is a very short distance between San Fransisco and Leeds, and even less between 1967 and the here and now.
Wooden Shjips is the vessel in which these men sail, a freak flag flying high from its mast. With The Doors’ Soft Parade and Morrison Hotel, Suicide’s début album and Pink Floyd at the UFO as the four points on their compass they head out to the high seas of psychedelic rock. Minimalism and repetition may be Wooden Shjips’ stock-in-trade but to this spiritual template – heard to quite dazzling effect on their recently released fourth album, the quietly magnificent Back To Land – they have now added subtlety, texture and rhythm.
For seventy five minutes tonight and after a slightly spluttering start they get into a groove, into the groove. As the collective heads of the Brudenell’s sell-out crowd begin to nod in blissful unison, Wooden Shjips begin to glide. A continuous droning swell of hypnotic simplicity, the music ebbs and flows through often barely discernible chord changes, sucking the listener into its stoned soul vortex. Its incessancy often swims against the tide from east to west, from Yasgur’s Farm to Monterey, but still has time to stop off here in West Yorkshire to celebrate Christmas a fortnight early.