Psychedelia seems like an outdated style that died out after its heyday in the ’60s, but after seeing Wooden Shjips perform with Cave and Ghost Box Orchestra at Great Scott, it is evident that psychedelia is still alive and well. With music that is heavy on the instrumentals and light on the vocals, these three bands had a lot in common in terms of sound and aesthetic that seemed to transport you back to another era.
Boston band Ghost Box Orchestra kicked off the night of psychedelic rock with their five-piece band. Each of their songs built up from taps and quiet sustained notes, the start of their set almost went unnoticed because of their hushed start. But not to worry, the set got increasingly loud and complex as the set went on. The music consisted of minimal vocals and if lead singer and guitarist Jeremy Lassetter was not singing into the mic, he was crouched down over his half dozen foot pedals twisting a few knobs. Occasionally, keyboardist Nazli Green would pipe in, layering her own vocals over Lassetter’s. Just as it was difficult to tell when the song was starting, it was also difficult to tell when it was ending, as the final song of their set seemed to build up to a climax but instead the band riffed on for a few more bars to conclude with more of a sizzle than a bang.
The entire mood changed all of a sudden when Cave took the stage because all stage lighting was switched off and instead giant animated wavelengths were projected on to the entire stage, musicians, instruments, and all. Cave played an entirely instrumental set with music consisting of their own brand of minimal, eclectic psychedelic rock. They played with an unusual collection of instruments, such as saxophone and flute, as well as the standard rock collection of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard. Their upbeat grooves and funky melodies led to some head bobbing from the audience. Ultimately, their long songs created a constant wall of sound that was meant to drown out the audience in an entirely immersive sensory experience. It was intense experience for the band members too, everyone seemed to have their eyes closed and be completely in the zone of the music. Cave ended their set by upgrading the color of their visual projection to rainbow status and increasing the dance-ability of the music.
To finish off the night, Wooden Shjips played their equally trippy set of psychedelic rock music. The band consists of four middle-aged men with names that are equally as groovy as their music: Ripley Johnson, Dusty Jermier, Nash Whalen, and Omar Ahsanuddin. Compared to the last band’s set, Wooden Shjip’s music is slightly more melodic and more coherent in terms of structure; verses and choruses are a more prominent feature and lyrics could be sung along to. The projected images on the screen were different for every song, ranging from kaleidoscopic black and white circles to saturated pop-art graphics. Not many people had their iPhones out filming or taking photos, probably because this type of performance was more meant for appreciating the music instead of instagramming celebrity-laced media. Their bass-heavy tunes were loud to the point where they sounded borderline noisy. Although their music is often described as “minimal”, it is difficult to believe that when you are standing within range of the droning wall of noise that makes the tiny hairs on you skin vibrate. If the purpose of Wooden Shjip’s show was to create a totally immersive sensory experience, their combination of stylized visuals and music succeeded in doing just that.