While much of the northeast was between snowstorms, the Wood Brothers pulled into Washington D.C. on an oddly balmy Saturday night. The sold out crowd at the venerated 9:30 Club seemed ready to bust. Seizing on that energy, the band delivered, again and again.
After a very musical set by the Oakland California trio, T Sisters, the Wood Brothers took the stage in support of their recently released record Live at the Barn, recorded at Levon Helm’s barn in Woodstock NY. The band centered much of the set list on material from the record, but rather than a mechanical recitation, the Wood Brothers played with the emotion of a band still deeply in love with these songs.
Many of the songs had interesting introductions, starting as a solo by bassist Chris Wood or percussionist/keyboardist Jano Rix, showing that the band and the songs are ever evolving, emerging according to the spirit of the room. On this night the spirit was of a crowd loaded to hear their favorite band, aching for some relief in the face of an ever increasing factor of stress, in a company town lead by a government stumbling through an emotionally charged transition.
The band is built first through the rhythm section. Bassist Chris Wood plays a nearly 100-year-old upright bass with the attack of a lead player on an electric bass. Every note is articulated, carrying melodic and rhythmic weight. His solos range from thoughtful melodic phrasing to blistering energetic fury. His tone can vary several times through a single song, always taking care to help guide the emotion of the song.
Jano Rix also takes deep care in providing a myriad of tonal color on either a drum kit, or his specially modified Shuitar, an acoustic guitar turned percussion instrument. His approach is meditative, sitting with his eyes closed before most songs while he summons the right spiritual connection. Also playing keyboards and Melodica, Jano started out the encores by playing a soulful bluesy piece on keyboards, which carried the tone of a sweet Fender Rhodes, calling up all manner of bittersweet sounding Gospel and R&B.
Both Chris and Jano provide beautiful harmonies behind the lead vocals of Oliver Wood. Oliver’s voice is sweet with an unrelenting honesty, a soulfulness that is easy to connect with. So too is his guitar playing, which is its own unique voice, ever in support of the melody.
There were many highlights during the night but perhaps most notably was a two-song stretch where Chris and Oliver sold the audience on the idea that they would turn off their amps and all gather around an old condenser mic. That the moment would draw back in time to when there was little to no amplification for live performance, and we could all experience something cool together. All lights were off except for a quiet orange glow from two floor mounted light cans facing up to the band. The first song worked like a charm and the crowd’s silence and patients was well rewarded. On the second song the T Sisters came out to join them, and the six voices of measured harmony knocked the place out.
A famous club in a major city on a Saturday night with a road-seasoned band is a sure fire recipe for a moving night. The Wood Brothers and T Sisters did not disappoint.