The Wood Brothers 2.1.16

Seattle, WA
Moore Theater

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By J. Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

The Wood Brothers’ early 2016 Seattle date may have fallen on a Monday, but that did not stop either the band or the audience from treating it like a weekend show. A solid crowd comfortably filled the city’s historic Moore Theater, eagerly awaiting the trio’s appearance onstage. As they emerged from behind the curtain and took their place at the center of the stage, I couldn’t help but notice how empty the massive stage looked with only three musicians on it. Once they began to play, however, they commanded it with the authority of a full orchestra.

This show demonstrated the breadth of the group’s material, starting off with softer, acoustic music and progressively adding in more distortion (and electricity) as the performance went on. The first songs featured Oliver Wood’s twangy acoustic guitar work, which held the crowd mesmerized and silent. It took a thunderous upright bass solo from Chris Wood to break the spell and bring the audience to their feet.

Drummer, Jano Rix, started off the set playing an instrument called a Shuitar, which is basically an old classical guitar with a myriad of percussive attachments. His skill level on this instrument is through the roof, and I really enjoyed watching him get into some intricate finger percussion. He also played it with brushes, which enabled him to make some cool, atmospheric-sounding noises. Later in the show, he put in plenty of time on the regular drumkit, as well as the keyboard. This jack-of-all-trades brings to the group a versatility that enables the trio to function at the level of a much larger band.

While Rix was on Shuitar, the band’s playing was generally mellow and focused towards Oliver’s ridiculously soulful vocal work. His voice has the outstanding nasal quality of the Slip’s Brad Barr, but with soaring sustain more similar to My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. This comparison was well illustrated by standout track “Postcards from Hell.” As his voice filled the entire theater, the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.

As he sang, I also noticed that his guitar work was impressively well-rounded. He can finger-pick in his sleep, and his strumming is consistently interesting. As he switched from acoustic to hollowbody electric, and then to resonator, I could see just how well he adapted his technique to get the very most out of each. To say he was well-rehearsed would be an understatement, because this man has clearly dedicated his life to this instrument.

His brother Chris is unquestionably a world-class talent on the bass. Playing upright for most of the show, he was unafraid to show off in a number of styles. His playing at this show was seeped throughout in country and bluegrass influences, and he never stopped dancing while he played. My favorite thing to see him do is the acid-jazz-style bass freak-outs (bowed or not), something he definitely did tonight, but you see a lot more of in his other project, avant-groove-jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood. He had to be sneakier about it, but was able to work plenty of jazz licks into his solos still.

I was also quite surprised at the amount of filthy funk grooves he was able to infuse into this folk show. He particularly stole the show during a cover of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's “Express Yourself,” which had everyone in the room jumping for joy. Oh, and did I mention that he also crushed on harmonica throughout the show? All of this versatility helped me to add a new wrinkle to my already-deep appreciation for Chris’s work.

The vocal harmonies between the two brothers were tight-as-could-be at all times. Hearing siblings play together is always a treat, especially siblings that have put in the time to nurture their natural connection. Their harmonies sounded excellent inside of the venue, which had been mixed pristinely for the evening. The sound quality shone brightly during their single-mic unplugged segment, which featured Rix on melodica, and supporting artist, Liz Vice, sitting-in to help them sing “I’ll Fly Away.” Her beautiful, gospel-inspired voice provided the perfect contrast to the brother’s folkier sound, really taking things to the next level.

The set’s electric conclusion featured the trio operating in rockabilly mode, which was an extremely fun way to end the night. This trio plays the danciest brand of folk music imaginable, but never allows the fun to distract them from their exceedingly high musical expectations. As I walked through the crisp February air to catch my bus home, I couldn’t help but think to myself how outrageous of a performance that was to witness on a Monday evening. If the Wood Brothers can do that on a Monday, then I cannot wait for a chance to see them on a Saturday night.

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