The Wood Brothers in Review
The Wood Brothers Transcend Again
(Originally written for Ticket Files, The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR) 02/08/2012
I have become a critic.
No, not the kind you’re thinking where every pitchy note sung or overly anticipatory rim-shot played is marked in my little black book with my blood-red pen. Oh, don’t get the wrong idea, I hear those things. After all, I make my living listening to my performing student ensembles and then thinking of ways to help them improve. But what my ear so readily detects, my heart just as readily dismisses as I am a purist; I love the beauty that is human expressionism — no matter how brilliant or dim. So when I say that I have become a critic, what I mean is that I am critical more of the environment in which this expression lives, who inhabits it, and how.
On Feb. 2, almost a year to the day of their last Eugene appearance, I had the awesome pleasure of attending the Wood Brothers’ concert. Opening for them were the Dugases, a brother and sister duo from Canada. As a side-note, last year Christian Dugas was touring with the Woods as well, but as their drummer. As a drummer Christian was extremely tight and tasteful; never giving too much or too little. The current Wood Brothers drummer, Jano Rix, was much the same but with more of an eclectic flare, playing a souped-up cajon shaped like a guitar and a percussion laden set. Rix also contributed to the excellent three-part harmonies that were missing in last year’s performance, not because Christian can’t sing but because he wasn’t a permanent member of the band.
Christian and Sarah Dugas, along with their keyboardist, opened the show to a fairly empty but attentive WOW Hall. With Christian on guitar and voice and Sarah singing lead vocal, the trio quickly won the favor of the crowd. They played soulful folk tunes in both French and English that really showed off the power of Sarah’s voice. And she’s got one crazy-powerful voice. Her voice is like a cross between Grace Potter and Christina Aguilera set in the body of a Canadian indie-folk darling. The trio received a semi-standing ovation at the end of its set so the musicians were certainly doing something right, but being the critic that I am I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the keyboardist turned way up. What would happen if Christian ditched the vintage Gibson, sat behind the set and started to lay down some of his funky drum parts? A voice like Sarah’s, expressive, acrobatic, soulful and emotive, deserves a deep pocket.
The Wood Brothers took the stage as a group (after Oliver sat-in on a Dugas song) with fervor. The once-empty WOW Hall was suddenly packed, standing room out the door only. And for good reason; the Woods are blow-yer-mind fantastic. No matter the depth of listening, one can find something to love about the Woods. From their contemplative lyrics, (save for perhaps “Shoofly Pie”) to the groove-tastic lines of bassist Chris Wood to the close, tight, three-part harmonies, the Woods cover all their bases. The Wood Brothers played a long set with some songs off their latest release (“Smoke Ring Halo,” “Shoofly Pie”), some crowd pleasing older songs (“Chocolate on my Tongue,” “Postcards From Hell,” “Luckiest Man”), and a cover or two. Their encore was constructed of five-part harmonies featuring the vocal stylings of Sarah Dugas. It was riveting to be sure.
Last year I wrote of the Woods: “Somehow this band manages to fuse Southern rock, American traditionals, New Orleans funk, and Manhattan free-jazz seamlessly, flawlessly, lovingly.” I continued: “What didn’t cook, simmered; what didn’t smoke, fried.” I finished with: “The Woods must be experienced live. Period.” In terms of this year’s performance compared to last year’s performance I would have to say: “Check, check and check.” As a critic (and admitted music nerd), I was excited to compare and contrast last year’s show to this year’s show. But I quickly realized that I can’t do that. These guys aren’t aging like wine because they aren’t necessarily getting better with time. They are already a $600 bottle of vintage Bordeaux. It’s that these guys, like all the greats, are transcendent. They manage to take you away from yourself, away from the part of you that makes you put on your hippest outfit to go to the show. They make you forget about the part of you that gets nervous when your date slips outside for a smoke, leaving you standing in the beer line alone. Musicians like the Wood Brothers give us the opportunity to lose our egos; they relieve us, if only for an hour, of that ugly burden. And we are happy, we dance, we fill the WOW Hall, we cheer and we are grateful. Their muscled technique, flawless voices and groove-heavy music is simply the vehicle. And a mighty one at that.