Greg Allman once advised his fellow musicians to play it “low and slow.” Roots-rock trio The Wood Brothers — Chris (guitar, vocals) and Oliver (bass, harmonica) Wood and Jano Rix (drums and assorted other instruments) — take this advice to heart, and they imbued their songs with the laidback ethos of their home state of Colorado in their recent show at The Anthem.
The Colorado music scene — the Denver scene, honestly — has a large presence of jam bands. I wouldn’t call The Wood Brothers a jam band, as their songs are more compact and tightly structured, but there is some common thread in their instrumental virtuosity and their tendency to occasionally stretch out songs. It’s not just the structure of The Wood Brothers’ music that bears the stamp of Colorado, but also the empathy, kindness, and positivity of their songs.
Take one of my favorites, “Broken,” from their 2020 album, Kingdom In My Mind. In the chorus, Oliver sings, “Everybody’s a little bit broken, and that’s okay.” The language is direct and straightforward, almost simple, but it conveys a deep point about how everyone is struggling through life in their own way.
Last month, the Brothers released their latest album, Heart Is The Hero. At The Anthem on May 20, the band opened their set with a couple of those new songs, “Between The Beats” and “Line Those Pockets.” Oliver described the album’s title track as a “philosophy: trust your heart.” The set also included “Pilgrim,” “The Worst Pain of All” and “Far From Alone.”
Watch the official music video for “Pilgrim” by The Wood Brothers on YouTube:
Oliver dedicated “Postcards from Hell” to Shawn “Gus” Vitale, the legendary 9:30 Club soundman who recently passed away. He then introduced “Loaded” as “our version of country music.” Remarking on the next song, he asked, rhetorically, “How many times have you ever seen a sitar?” which he pronounced as “shih-tar.” “How about a bass sitar?” he continued. “Every time is like the first time.”
Before covering Los Lobos’ “I Got Loaded,” he told the audience, “you don’t have to drink any of that crap to have fun. This just happens to be a drinking song. Please drink responsibly.” This song really got the crowd going with a call-and-response section. After “One Drop Truth of Truth,” Oliver said, “Sometimes we write songs, we’re like, ‘what should we name this?’ Sometimes, it’s obvious.” He then told the audience, “My favorite song title is by Spinal Tap: ‘Lick My Love Pump.'” The set also included “Without Desire,” “Sing About It,” “Little Blue,” “Satisfied,” “Little Bit Sweet,” “Luckiest Man” (which had the crowd singing along), and “Happiness Jones.”
South Carolina duo Shovels & Rope — Carrie Anne Hearst and Michael Trent — opened the show, starting with “Colorado River,” followed by “The Wire,” “Hail Hail,” “The Devil Is All Around,” “Good Ole Days,” and “Collateral Damage.”
“Here’s a rock ‘n’ roll song about Alzheimer’s Disease,” Carrie told the audience, introducing “Invisible Man.” “Carry Me Home,” Michael said, “reminds me of my dad, and also Tom Petty, who is, in a weird way, also my dad.” “C’mon Utah” tells the story of a magical horse, and was also turned into a children’s book. “Mississippi Nuthin’,” Carrie said, is “a song about peaking in high school.” “Twisted Sisters,” they explained, is “about two tornadoes, side-by-side, and their devastation, not the ’80s rock band who refused to take it anymore.”
I have some history with The Wood Brothers, especially their bassist Chris. I followed his earlier band, the jazz-funk unit Medesky, Martin & Wood, catching them at my first festival, Austin City Limits, in 2004. The Wood Brothers play a different kind of music, but the skill and craft of that band were very much alive in The Wood Brothers. Seeing them is always an uplifting experience, and I walked out of The Anthem Saturday night feeling a little bit better than when I went in.
Here are some photos of Shovels & Rope and The Wood Brothers performing at The Anthem on May 20, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Ari Strauss.