LIVE: The Wood Brothers @ The Egg, 1/30/18
Review by Richard Brody
During the Wood Brothers’ opening set for the Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center last July, an increasing number of people gave the band standing ovations as their set proceeded. It was obvious as they walked offstage that they had a bunch of new fans. So it was not surprising that their return to Albany and The Egg was at the larger Hart Theatre, rather than the smaller Swyer where they had played a number of times, and that the show was sold out several weeks in advance.
Whether you were an old fan, a recent one or someone who was seeing them for the first time, the band didn’t disappoint. Their new album, One Drop of Truth, was scheduled to be released three days after the show, and the band wasted no time letting everyone know that with their opener, “River Takes the Town.” The setting is Shreveport and the flood that carries with it the possible loss of a loved one, but it could have been set in any number of places that have recently been devastated by rainfall, floods and lost loved ones. From One Drop they also introduced us to “Laughin’ or Crying” and the fabulous “Happiness Jones,” which captures the band’s humorous take on one of life’s important revelations and is sure to be a concert staple with its opening lines:
All of my wisdom came from all the toughest days
I never learned a thing being happy…
While the new songs add to the band’s arsenal, it was familiar ones like “Mary Anna” and “Tried and Tempted” that got the biggest crowd response. One of the early highlights that displayed the band’s versatility was “Who the Devil” that opened with Chris Wood bowing his bass and slowly creating eerie high-pitched notes that sounded like moaning and crying. The tempo sped up with Oliver Wood coming in on guitar and Jano Rix on drums and then moved on to a section with Oliver and Chris, sans bow, taking turns playing off each other and eventually concluding with the tempo slowing way down, ending on the whispery notes of Chris’ bowed bass.
At mid-set the band huddled together and brought out the ’40s vintage “big mic” for the old-time segment of their set. After giving The Egg some humorous respect for its sound, they gathered around with Rix on shuitar, Oliver on resonator guitar and Chris on bass, breaking into “Firewater” with Oliver leading the way on vocals and Chris and Rix leaning in for some vocal support. Staying front and center with the big mic they brought out Aaron Lipp to add some banjo for a cover of the Black Crowes’ “Chevrolet” and then added the evening’s openers, the Stray Birds, for a seven-voice “Down by the Riverside” that reflected the band’s desire to share their joy of performing.
If you are a Wood Brothers fan you gotta have a favorite song, and from the first time I heard it mine has been “Postcards from Hell.” You can hear the song’s inspiration and defiance in the band’s playing and Oliver’s voice as he honors struggling bluesmen, specifically Donnie McCormick who inspired the song. In this day and time, the song transcends that specific meaning and speaks to everyone who works hard to do a good job regardless of their pay and who “got a soul that they won’t sell”.
The band went into party mode a number of times during the evening, beginning with Chris showing off his slippin’ and slidin’ dance moves – with his stand-up bass as partner – as the band broke into “Snake Eyes.” Oliver’s electric guitar and Jano’s drums were all that was needed to keep Chris moving his feet until it was time for the bass to make its musical entrance. It was the first of their “let’s party” songs that got the crowd up and shakin’. Later in the set, with a little encouragement, they got the crowd up to sing along to their New Orleans-style “I Got Loaded,” Chris adding some harmonica to his bass and then wrapping up the evening with the crowd standing, singing and dancing to “Honey Drippin’.”
From their thought-provoking lyrics to the fantastic grooves that bassist Chris can take through a myriad of twists and turns to Oliver’s playing acoustic, electric or resonator guitars with slide as needed, and with Rix anchoring the band on a variety of percussive instruments, sometimes using his right hand to play the keyboard and his left to drum, the Wood Brothers are the real deal for music lovers. On this night they seamlessly wove elements of folk, blues, jazz, gospel, New Orleans funk and rock into their songs. So if you haven’t seen them, do yourself a favor, catch them the next time they return to Greater Nippertown. You will leave the show with a big smile on your face and wonder what took you so long.
The Stray Birds have played in our area a number of times and shot the video for their set opener “Best Medicine” in Schenectady, primarily on Jay Street. The song about what music can do for the ailing soul was introduced by Oliver Craven’s resonator guitar that led into Maya de Vitry’s fiddle and powerful lead vocals and supported by Charlie Muench’s bass. All three can sing well and harmonize, as they did starting with the chorus on this number. Craven took over lead vocals on “My Horses Ain’t Hungry” with Muench using a bow on his bass to deepen the country-style ballad. Muench took over lead vocals on their fine cover of Jimmie Rogers’ “Anniversary Blue Yodel,” and he was joined by Craven as the two yodeled their way to the song’s finish. The band exited with “Sabrina,” their strongest song of the set, led by Craven’s fiddle, de Vitry’s strong lead vocals and great three-part harmony on the chorus.
THE WOOD BROTHERS SET LIST
River Takes the Town
Keep Me Around
Tried and Tempted
Laughin’ or Crying
Postcards from Hell
Who the Devil
Chevrolet (Black Crowes)
Down by the Riverside
When I Was Young
I Got Loaded
Where My Baby Might Be
THE STRAY BIRDS SET LIST
My Horses Ain’t Hungry
Third Day in a Row
I’ll Sleep with My Window Open ?
Anniversary Blue Yodel (Jimmie Rogers)
Time Is Not Enough