With the Grammy Awards in the rearview mirror, the Wood Brothers arrived at New York’s Irving Plaza, calling into question the whole idea of musical categories upon which the industry bestows its honors. Into what bucket do we place an eclectic band led by a countrified singer-songwriter who sings like a cross between Marcus Mumford and Boz Scaggs; a conservatory-trained bass virtuoso who is also part of a formidable modern jazz trio; and an all-round musical genius on drums, percussion, melodica and angelic high harmonies? On iTunes, the Wood Brothers get lumped into the Country category, but judging by the second of their two Irving Plaza shows, it was clear they are a musical union with the talent, imagination and chops to bend, break and set their own boundaries.
Singer-songwriter Oliver Wood fronts the band, playing acoustic and electric guitars and looking like he stepped out of the Allman Brothers At Fillmore East album cover. Younger brother Chris Wood, a co-founder of the noted jazz trio, Martin, Medeski and Wood, works the upright bass like a ballet dancer who just wants to boogie. And Jano Rix, a much in-demand Nashville-based sideman, completes the unit with astonishing musical fluidity whether he’s behind the drums or working a unique percussion rig called a suitar (pronounced shi-tar).
The trio has been on tour since early December in support of their sixth studio album, One Drop of Truth, which was scheduled for official release the morning after the New York shows. Perhaps in anticipation of the birthing process about to be completed, the boys and their opening act, the Stray Birds, hit a high note in their celebration of American music. Thursday night’s set was packed with stellar originals, from the opening gospel keynote of “Sing About It” (“sing about your trouble and it might just pass”) to the clever wordplay of “Happiness Jones” (“I never learned a thing being happy”). With the estimable John Medeski sitting in on keyboards for much of the night, tight folkiness alternated with high-energy jamming. Mid-way through, fellow Nashvilleans the Stray Birds, who had already won over the crowd with their own banjo- and fiddle-infused roots music, returned to join the Woods for an old-timey mini-set. Sung Grand Ole Opry-style into a single vintage microphone, the harmonies of “Down By The Riverside” (“ain’t gonna study war no more”) held the audience in hushed rapture.
Chris Wood then strapped on a Hofner “Beatles bass” to help the band crush a cover of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me,” with Medeski throwing down a titanic solo on Hammond organ. By the encores, “Luckiest Man” and “One More Day,” the Wood Brothers had much of the crowd singing along word for word. These smart tunes have roots in The Band, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt and others in the Great American Songbook. Performed with improvisational zeal worthy of the finest jam bands, the Wood Brothers are a live act capable of lighting it up with the best of them. By the end of the raucous show, their core fans were cheering while those who had just discovered them were calling the Wood Brothers their new favorite band.
Check out the gallery below, courtesy of photographer Lou Montesano.
Setlist: The Wood Brothers | Irving Plaza | New York City, NY | 2/1/18
Sing About It; Atlas; Mary Anna; Fall Too Fast (with John Medeski); Tried and Tempted (with Medeski); Snake Eyes; Chocolate On My Tongue; Neon Tombstone; Laughin’ or Crying (with Medeski); The Muse; Chevrolet (with Medeski); Down By The Riverside (traditional, with The Stray Birds); Happiness Jones (with Medeski); You Wreck Me (Tom Petty cover, with Medeski); Where My Baby Might Be (with Medeski); Honey Jar (with Medeski). Encore: Luckiest Man (with Medeski); One More Day (with Medeski).