The Wood Brothers at the Fox Theater, by Carolyn McCoy
The Wood Brothers (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Words by Carolyn McCoy

I have heard much hubbub over the last year over the Americana folk-rock band The Wood Brothers. Friends and colleagues have expounded on their playing and their performances, telling me over and over, “You really gotta check these guys out, they are something else!” Ok, fine, twist my arm. When the three men who make up The Wood Brothers walked onto the stage of Oakland’s Fox Theater recently, I did not know what to expect as I wasn’t familiar with much of their music. It was kind of like a blind date in the sense that even though I was told I would like them, I didn’t know if it would be a love connection. But I was ready to experience what they had to offer. Most of the time, I trust the suggestions of music lovers like myself to point me in the right direction of bands I need to hear, and I am happy to report I was not misled.

From the first song to the last, I could tell they were my kind of band; rootsy, rocking, dynamic, and intelligent. The Wood Brothers are solid players, and I did my best to understand what was going on before my eyes and ears. At first, I couldn’t quite tell why I liked them right away, but then it began to hit me. It was as if they were all playing separately to what their spirits told them to play, but they are also able to meld that separateness into this tightly wound package of cohesion with each man’s playing style coming into sync with the others. I was aware of all three playing individually while hearing what they did together. That, to me, is brilliant, like three colorful fireworks going off in the sky simultaneously while creating this majestic display of BOOM!

The band is pure talent. Oliver Wood is the eldest, a guitarist, and a songwriter by nature and birth. His stories come across beautifully when translated into song. Younger brother Chris Wood is a musical genius with his focus on bass, either with is his standup, electric and vintage instruments, as well as harmonica. His time with Medeski, Martin Wood solidified his technical prowess and his jazz influences. Multi-instrumentalist and percussionist Jano Rix is not a brother in the familial sense, but definitely one in the spiritual sense. His expertise at playing drums while laying down funky keyboard licks AND singing all at the same time was wicked to witness, and I began to think he had extra arms.

Opening the night, the band laid hard into songs from their newest release Kingdom Of My Mind, showing that they have not lost their touch lyrically or musically. “Alabaster” has crunchy feedback, and a bluesy vibe and “Glad” brings a funky groove with a killer baseline. Oliver’s voice has a hint of twang when he sings, and in conjunction with his brother Chris’s higher voice, the harmonies rip on songs like “When I Was Young” and “Little Bit Broken”. “Snake Eyes” totally rocked with a freight-train force. Mid-point of the show, opening act Birds Of Chicago gathered around the mic with the band on “Sing All About It” and sang their hearts out. With the end of the evening, The Wood Brothers busted out the gorgeously sung “Luckiest Man”, “Lil Blue” and an excellent cover of The Band’s “Ophelia” before their encore of “Happiness Jones/Express Yourself”.

An interesting thing happened during the show, one that I wish would happen more often. As the band was set to play a quiet song, Oliver Wood kindly shushed the very chatty audience, stating that now was the time to hush up your neighbors and listen. I almost cheered but felt that would not help the moment. So the audience stopped talking, and when it was quiet, the three men sang in harmony, all acoustic and lovely, encouraging the fans to not only listen but to sing.

Once again, I am blown away by a band I didn’t know much about. Once again, I leave the venue going, “Holy cow, that was FUN!” and once again, I open myself to the magic at hand when I hear live music. I would have to say that for a “blind date” with a band, this was a very successful love connection.