For more Wood Brothers images, check out David Simchock’s blog, Front Row Focus.
Not long into The Wood Brothers’ sold-out Saturday night show at The Orange Peel, Chris and Oliver Wood told a story about playing the same venue a few years back. It was a seated concert and they optimistically set out 100 chairs. Sixteen people showed up, “and one guy who clapped really loudly.”
There were a lot of guys clapping really loudly on Saturday, from the jaunty opening songs like “Sing About It” and “Shoofly Pie” to late-set offerings like “One More Day” and an emotionally-charged cover of The Band’s “Ophelia.” The stage, set with glowing lamps and a window frame, suggested homey warmth — a nice touch — but the cozy chemistry of the Wood siblings (guitarist/vocalist Oliver of King Johnson, and bassist/harmonica player/vocalist Chris of Medeski Martin & Wood) didn’t require any props to get the point across.
A Wood Brothers show feels like a house party, albeit a superpolished and professional one. There’s an air of familiarity and ease. The brothers’ songs are based in their collective backgrounds of jazz, blues and R&B (and filed under Americana), but the musicians’ combined skill and enthusiasm elevates all of those influences. Jazz is tactile, the blues is buoyant and R&B comes off with a “dance like no one’s watching” attitude. With Jano Rix on percussion, they switch time signatures, howl and harmonize and — especially in Chris’ case — play as if their instruments are extensions of their bodies.
“Who the Devil,” from recent release The Muse, matched smart, sophisticated writing with deep grooves that dissolved into a full-on funk jam before morphing perfectly back into elegantly bowed bass. On a cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head,” Oliver’s voice was loose and joyful, a vocal distilled from experience and personal reckoning. “Luckiest Man” was a rich and moody sonic tapestry while “Honey Jar,” a sexy blues-rocker, paired rhythmic swagger with tight instrumentation.
Somewhere around the halfway point, openers Chris Kasper and Kylie Ryan joined the Woods and Rix around a single mic for “Sweet Maria.” It took some effort to get the crowd quiet enough for the acoustic performance, but the delicate song with its fluttery strings was well worth it. They followed that with a cover of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” which Oliver prefaced, joking, “This song may be a singalong. But clapping, no. Not clapping.” (It was, indeed a singalong.)
The evening ended with two encores multi-song, including “Postcards from Hell” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Payday.”