The Wood Brothers, The Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC- 12/2
Picture a funk blues band with all of the trimmings. Now take away the horn line and the female backing vocals. Drop the keys and the second guitar player. Ditch the drummer and the fancy suits. You are left with the Wood Brothers, two guys as full of heart as they are of talent, singing songs of love and hurt, inviting you to feel their pain and joy.
Chris and Oliver Wood both made individual names for themselves in the musical world before coming together as a duo to demonstrate what growing up in the Wood house must have sounded like so many years ago. Oliver Wood is the guitarist/vocalist of King Johnson, and Chris Wood plays bass for Medeski, Martin and Wood. Both groups are represented here in their own respects, but the Wood Brothers remain a unique entity.
The Evening Muse has no back stage, so as the crowd filed in, the brothers sat at the bar, smiling and talking to whomever approached them. A voice came over the loudspeaker introducing them and they got up and walked the four feet and one step up onto the stage. Oliver took his seat and situated his guitar while Chris uprighted his bass and fiddled with the harmonica holder that was now around his neck. It was a Sunday night at Charlotte’s best little venue and no pomp and circumstance was needed.
Oliver Wood has a unique voice. With a vocal styling situated somewhere between Gregg Allman and Shannon Hoon, he relates emotion in every word. He writes great lyrics and solid melodies. His music is intimate and the living room set up at the Muse was the perfect setting for him.
Chris Wood is something else. With Medeski and Martin, he plays everything from funk to jazz to noise. They are a band that is happy to stand back and watch a song fall apart just so that they can pick it up and put it back together again with a fresh start. So it was surprising to see this master of the absurd playing harmonica and singing backing vocals alongside his brother. They sing together like only siblings can, two parts to the same voice (That’s right: Chris Wood can sing and he has a beautiful voice).
Chris slides bass chords on the upright like a jazz player. He takes simple lines arrpegiated over simple chord progressions and he seasons them until they seem otherworldly. He moved on the upright like it was a toy, his fingers crawling over the strings with frightening speed. He bowed intermittently but beautifully and with well-rehearsed ability. Sometimes he showed us his other side and he got a bit weird, but usually he played funky and powerfully over his older brother’s solos and vocals.
They played a lot of songs off of their album Ways Not To Lose. They played some new songs, as well as a very interesting take on “Midnight Rider.” When it was over, Oliver commented, “’Scuse us while we mess with your Allman Brothers.” After the pair finished off the set, they went and stood in the corner, the truest problem of playing a venue without a backstage. Then they waited a moment and then came back to the front and made a joke about the contrived nature of the encore. Then they offered up two more songs: “Luckiest Man” off of the album and then “Is What It Is.” The latter might have been the strongest song of the evening, where sparse a cappella vocals tightly arranged between moving instrumental sections played out for one of the longest and most arranged songs of the night. Chris and Oliver then thanked us for coming, although any gratitude and appreciation on this evening was mutual.