Review and photographs by Richard Brody
The sold-out, standing-room-only Club Helsinki crowd came expecting a great show. The Wood Brothers did not disappoint. They opened with “Sing About It” from their current album The Muse. The strolling bass line laid down by Chris Wood that began the song was quickly followed by the light touch of Oliver Wood’s acoustic guitar, and then Jano Rix’s melodica, and when the last instrumental note vanished into the night, the first vocal line was sung a cappella: “If you get too worried, what you ought to do is sing,” the second half of which was sung in three part gospel-like harmony. We were barely a minute into the show, and the band had displayed their ability to seamlessly integrate several musical styles that captured their essence.
Good songwriters need inspiration and the title track of The Muse is an homage to Oliver’s wife, who provides the space and support for the tunes to get created. But it was the birth of his child that helped him complete the song with the lines:
“And if I was thinkin’ I’d be thinkin’ thank God whoever you are
For the muse and the miracle right here in my arms.”
Yet the music was not all nice and tender. The band turned up the heat on a number of songs, most notably “Honey Jar,” a funk-influenced tune that began with some dizzyingly fast bass and drums that carried the song until it slid into a slower tempo blues bridge that transitioned back into the fast stuff and remained there until its crescendo finish. And then there was arguably the crowd’s favorite “Who the Devil” that began slowly with Chris’ bowed bass leading and building to a rocking instrumental break that provided numerous improvisational sparks led by Oliver’s electric guitar that was overtaken by Rix’s percussion and Chris’ thumping bass, and then slowly brought back to the song’s opening tempo by Chris’ bowed bass.
While the evening primarily focused on their recent songs, some old favorites found their way into the set list. “Postcards from Hell,” a song that could have been on the soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” tells the story of a struggling street musician who won’t sell his soul for a shot at fame. With Oliver on acoustic guitar and Chris on bowed bass and harmonica, it was Rix’s “shuitar” that captures the cheap guitar of the song’s protagonist who can beat out rhythms on pots and pans.
The evening had almost ended with nary a mention of Americana, the style that the band has been branded with, when Chris mentioned that Ray Charles was Americana, so therefore Michael Jackson must be Americana, and what followed was their spirited rendition of Michael’s “PYT” with Chris plucking on the bass, Rix’s shuitar setting the rhythmic tone, Oliver on lead vocals, and Chris and Rix providing the falsetto supporting vocals. It did Michael proud. There was little room for most of us to move anywhere other than to get to the bar, but those on the outside stage left aisle were shaking it up for everyone.
I arrived late to the Wood Brothers party. It was Nippertown’s jazzman J Hunter who put them at the top of his best of 2013 concert list that spurred me into action. I went to their February show at The Egg and was knocked out. And their Club Helsinki show was every bit as good. Trying to capture the Wood Brothers’ charisma, musical dexterity, humor and joy on paper is a difficult task, but as far as the Wood Brothers go, I am all in. And there was a promise from the band that they would be back in the winter packing vinyl.
Opening the show were Simi Stone and Burnell Pines performing both solo and together. The standouts from their six-song set included Pines’ “Another Sky,” Stone’s “Good Times for Good People” and their gorgeous duet on Neil Young’s “Birds.” I look forward to seeing and hearing more from both of them.
THE WOOD BROTHERS SET LIST (Most of it)
Sing About It
Fall too Fast
Wastin’ my Mind
Postcards from Hell
Who the Devil
I Got Loaded
Shoe Fly Pie
Up Above My Head
One More Day
Piano solo (title?) – Jano Rix
What Would I Do (Van Morrison cover) ?
PYT (Michael Jackson cover