The Wood Brothers have a rare combination of musical training, a diverse skill set rooted in classics, and an outright sense of fun. All three were on display in the first of two shows at 9:30 Club recently.
Between slapping and playing with a bow on his bass in “Laughin’ or Cryin’” and “One More Day,” younger brother Chris shucked, jived, and slid his way around the stage. Older brother Oliver (songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist) promised the audience that Thursday evening’s show at the 9:30 Club would be a “humdinger,” and that they would “try to give it a Friday night-Saturday night feeling.”
As good as The Wood Brothers are — and their most recent album, 2018’s One Drop of Truth is nominated for a Grammy for Best Americana Album — this trio doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Steam One Drop of Truth by The Wood Brothers on Spotify:
Paying tribute their blues influences, The Wood Brothers opened with the 1960 Jimmy Reed hit “Big Boss Man.” (Not just a professional wrestler!) They followed with “Luckiest Man,” conjuring Robert Johnson’s encounter with the devil, albeit in a playful way, and getting the audience to sing along. Like the legendary Delta bluesman, Oliver has long, slender fingers, ideal for playing the guitar.
The Wood Brothers grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where their father, a molecular biologist, played classic American music at family gatherings, and their mother, a poet, instilled a love of language. Their paths would diverge for many years, however, as Oliver, whom one gentleman compared to Jack Johnson, became a guitarist for blues-rocker Tinsley Ellis, and Chris followed a different path.
Wikipedia lists Chris Wood as a jazz musician. Before joining up with his brother, Chris performed with the avant-jazz funk trio Medeski Martin & Wood beginning in 1991, after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1989. A particularly knowledgeable fan at Thursday’s concert described Medeski Martin & Wood as “jazz with hippies dancing.”
In addition to Chris and Oliver Wood, who hail from Boulder, Colorado, multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix plays drums for most of their sets and recordings. When the band gathered around a single mic (similar to Lee Ann Womack’s concert in March) to sing “Angel Band,” Jano literally filled the role of multi-instrumentalist, carrying two on his person.
Shushing the audience before “Angel Band,” Chris said, “Nostalgia’s strange. Times back then were weird. Times right now are really weird. The future’s only going to get weirder.” Before playing “Ophelia,” Oliver told the audience, “We’re going to try something weird, and you all have to shut up.” Afterwards, he said, “Sorry we told you to shut up, you actually did a great job singing with us.”
Plugging into the local mood, The Wood Brothers closed their main set with “Postcards From Hell.” Oliver said, “We send this one out to anyone’s furloughed or working for nothing or working for cheap.”
As the audience exited the venue, chatter indicated that the concert was a hit. For a Thursday evening, The Wood Brothers had drawn a terrific, energetic crowd, packing in a couple of rows deep in the balcony. The band returned to the 9:30 Club the following evening for what promised to be an even more heavily attended and equally electric show.
Here are some pictures of The Wood Brothers performing at 9:30 Club on Jan. 17, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Ari Strauss.