When The Wood Brothers announced they would be playing two nights at Irving Plaza with legendary jazz keyboardist John Medeski, longtime fans knew they were in for a treat. Over the years, the brothers have been known to welcome special guests on stage, but rarely do they call on support for an entire performance. Seeing that Chris Wood and John Medeski have bonded as sonic brothers after over 25 years of Medeski, Martin & Wood, they didn’t need to bring smoke and mirror to make the natural magic happen.

The Straybirds warmed up the crowd with a short and traditional folk set. Lancaster, PA must have something in the water because this trio knows how to rock a house while adding that Americana safety net that longtime Wood Brothers fans come to appreciate.

The Wood Brothers entered the dark and eerie stage around 9:00 pm and somberly opened with the song that opens their new album, One Drop of Truth. “River Takes the Town” was written prior to the devastation that swept the nation this past summer, and coincidentally, the tune accurately describes the pain and terror that comes with overwhelming disasters both widespread or personal. Most of the crowd seemed new to the song, but after hitting them right in the feels, it was clear that another hit was added to the already strong repertoire.

Chris Wood added some extra bluesy effects to “Keep Me Around” and the Big Apple welcomed the instrumental nuances with excitement. Since their first-ever NYC show at the Tonic in 2005, the trio has consistently found new ways to differentiate their originals, adding life and spirit to the music like no other. During “Laughin’ or Crying”, another gem from the incredibly strong new release, Chris banged the top of his stand-up bass like a drum, making it sound like there was a trotting horse on stage. The “rainbow in Brooklyn” lyric produced ravenous roars from the local audience which led into “Snake Eyes” off the critically-acclaimed Paradise album. Before song number six, Oliver Wood invited John Medeski to join in on the fun. Medeski came out to proclaim, “It smells like Boulder in here” referring to the mysterious smoke cloud hovering overhead which led to an extra soulful “Postcards from Hell.” Oliver dedicated the Loaded single to their friend and mentor John Medeski, a man that gave them a ton of advice not only as the producer of their first album, but as a longtime friend from before the concept of The Wood Brothers was even born.

“Neon Tombstone” was extra bright with Medeski adding his gospel and soul influence on the already spiritual tune. Jano Rix sped up the rhythm, creating a sizzling rendition of the usually slower track. “Who The Devil” was peppered in as the second part of back-to-back tracks off 2013’s The Muse and got the crowd moving in the tightly packed concert hall. After a smoking hot “Who The Devil”, it was time to bring out their old-timey, stand-alone microphone, known to fans as “Big Mic.” The threesome “took a vacation from now” with a gorgeous “Firewater”, once again keeping The Muse album on rotation for the evening.

It would have been a shame to send Medeski home after a few short songs in the early set, so they welcomed him back on stage for arguably the biggest highlight of the evening. A room full of silence is a rarity in New York City, but during the Lonnie Young blues staple, “Chevrolet,” the hallowed room got what they came for. Chris slapped a heavy bass while Oliver hypnotized the audience with his crisp, one-of-a-kind voice. Meanwhile, Rix and Medeski went back and forth on keyboard melodica and mouth organ melodica, creating trippy twist and turns to the delight of the Boulder-esque room. After the mini-jam, Medeski went back to the trenches and The Straybirds entered the stage for an incredible rendition of “Midnight Special”, which Oliver described as a prison tune appropriate for the road. Each member of the opening act had their time to shine on stage and the six-piece harmonized beautifully during the barnburner. Big Mic time for a Wood Brothers shows is always special, but this one is going to be hard to top.

The Muse-heavy set wouldn’t be complete without the reflective party tune “I Got Loaded”, which always grabs the attention of the audience with a playful call-and-response. It was safe to say that the crowd was feeling alright when the band introduced another new and energetic tune “Happiness Jones”, also from the upcoming album. Oliver mentioned the band had already pre-sold well under a million copies to add some comic relief to the emotionally driven setlist. When hearing this on the album for the first time, it is puzzling to comprehend both keys and drums at the same time. Since Jano Rix only has two arms, they once again called upon the gospel octopus, John Medeski, to help them out. Medeski’s sound flows so well with the trio that it was like they had rehearsed the show for years. The next mashup was no different as the foursome combined elements of “Where My Baby Might Be” with Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” adding an extra rocking element to the phenomenal show. Oliver wasted no time showing off his bluesy chops as Medeski added a plethora of kick-ass to the mix.

Ear-to-ear grins covered the room as the band’s most recognizable song, “Luckiest Man,” got added support with Medeski on stage. The soulful, inviting tune left couples embracing and long-time fans singing along with each verse. As the band left the stage, there was no telling what tricks they had up their sleeves for the encore. Rather than coming out with a slow number, they loaded up the cannon with help from their special guest and blew the roof off Irving Plaza with “Up Above My Head.” This traditional cover has seen numerous shifts since the early days of them playing together and that is a sign of growth in the brothers. Medeski added a New Orleans flair to the song steeped in Americana roots, yet so naturally adaptable thanks to the talent onstage. One more off The Muse for good measure, “Honey Jar” sent fans home with a little extra sweetness in their step.

When the band added Rix full time back in the early days of The Wood Brothers, their catalog of music shifted shapes overnight and with the addition of Medeski, the quartet really took flight on Wednesday night. With a new album dropping tomorrow, February 2nd, The Wood Brothers hit the stage with powerful momentum. After night one in Manhattan, there was one extremely valuable lesson learned, when John Medeski is on the bill, it’s important. The Wood Brothers, John Medeski, and The Straybirds will hit the stage again tonight at Irving Plaza.

Setlist: The Wood Brothers | Irving Plaza | New York City, NY | 1/31/18

River Takes The Town, Keep Me Around, Maryanna, Laughin’ or Crying, Snake Eyes, Postcards from Hell*, Neon Tombstone*, Who The Devil, Firewater, Chevrolet*, Midnight Special&, I Got Loaded, Happiness Jones*, Where My Baby Might Be*> You Wreck Me*#, Luckiest Man*

E: Up Above My Head* > Honey Jar*

*- with John Medeski
&- with The Straybirds
#- Tom Petty

[photo via The Wood Brothers Facebook]