Review and photographs by J Hunter
“If you get worried/What you ought to do is sing!”
That was the first piece of advice the full house at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre got from the Wood Brothers, and there was plenty more where that came from. Don’t worry, though; the galvanizing alt-country unit hasn’t become a trio of self-help gurus. But between revival-tent gospel vibe that’s at the root of their music and an arsenal of songs that implore you to keep the faith (in whatever), you can’t help coming away from their show smiling a little wider and standing a little taller.
Despite the reassuring lyrics at the top of this review, bassist Chris Wood seemed a little nonplussed about his surroundings. “I’ve been in the big Egg a few times,” he told us right after a bouncing take on “Atlas,” which was very similar to the video that accompanied my review of the Brothers’ new disc Live, Volume 2: Nail & Tooth. “This is… the Quail Egg, I don’t know…”
“This is the sperm,” someone in the crowd yelled, inspiring much hilarity.
Never at a loss, guitarist Oliver Wood cracked, “Yes, we’re gonna fertilize this place with great music!” Procreation humor aside, great music was on tap all night long, washing over us in a flood of country, blues and gospel that had deep roots but spoke with a voice well-versed in the modern day. And all of it was as lead-pencil simple as it gets: Guitar, bass and drums – no horns, no effects, no filler and no bullshit. The closest thing to high-tech we got was “Big Mike,” a massive area mic that was the great-great-grandson of the ones used at the Grand Ol’ Opry back in the heyday of Hank Williams (not to be confused with Hank Williams, Jr, who couldn’t carry his daddy’s guitar case). Oh, and then there was percussionist Jano Rix’s melodica, which he played as the Brothers gathered round Big Mike and tried out new material that dovetailed perfectly with the Brothers’ established catalog.
And it was the established catalog that hit the most home runs. Oliver dedicated the dark tale “Postcards from Hell” to opening act Jamie Kent and “all the musicians who play thankless gigs where you’re competing with 25 televisions and a bunch of drunk people!” The “Big Mike” matrix added some Grand Ol’ Opry cred to the multi-metered “Mary Anna,” and Wood preceded a Bo Diddley-like “Liza Jane” with a tremendous in-the-clear bass solo that was straight out of the Medeski Martin & Wood playbook. “Spirit” had that snaky, swampy quality that made you remember why you liked Creedence Clearwater Revival, while the plodding bar ballad “Smoke Ring Halo” had more country in it than anything you’ll hear on WGNA.
The energy ramped up at the tail end of the set with glorious versions of “Shoo Fly Pie” and “One More Day.” The latter tune had Oliver and Chris dancing on either side of the stage as Rix launched into a monstrous drum solo that contradicted the subtleties he’d been laying down for most of the night. Oliver showed his slide guitar skills while the crowd howled, and Chris displayed moves that would have been perfect for the dance contest Jamie Kent held towards the end of his opening set. “We may have peaked too soon,” Oliver observed in the face of the first of two standing ovations. No worries there, as we got two killer encores.
One of the more annoying ripple effects of losing Revolution Hall as a regular concert venue was the Wood Brothers lost a concert venue that is in easy reach for most of us. Now that they’ve played “the Quail Egg”, we have to hope they’ll become a regular feature of the “American Roots & Branches” series that has made The Egg the musical center that it is.
NOTE: If you missed ’em at The Egg – or if you just want more – the Wood Brothers will take the stage at Club Helsinki in Hudson at 9pm on Saturday (March 2). Tickets are $25 in advance; $28 at the door.