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Published: 2016/05/16
by Matt Nestor

Woods, Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia, PA- 5/6

Once Philadelphia’s only country bar, Boot & Saddle has since been revitalized and diversified but remains entirely rustic and oaken in appearance, save the blazing neon cowboy boot that overlooks South Broad Street. Inside, past the dim-lit bar, an intimate 200-capacity room was packed with Friday night fervor where Brooklyn-bred quintet Woods played to a sold-out crowd.

It was the perfect-sized room for Woods’ minimalist mix of daydream folk-rock. It’s not that Woods can’t or shouldn’t play bigger venues, but this tight-packed room felt right as the band kicked off the evening with “Morning Light” and “Politics Of Free” two tracks off City Sun Eater In The River Of Light, the band’s ninth LP released in early April.

The crowd got an early taste of Woods’ easygoing psychedelia on “Hollow Home,” City Sun Eater’s closing track. Guitarist Jarvis Taveniere barked out some cool wah-wah riffs over frontman Jeremy Earl’s acoustic guitar and melodic singing. On the ensuing “Sun City Creeps,” Woods’ newest band member, multi-instrumentalist Kyle Forester, had his turn to shine, blowing that tune’s saxophone melodies. Forester played keys most of the night, taking a moment to joke about the awkward tension between him and former Woods keyboardist, John Andrews, who played percussion directly behind Forester throughout the show (Andrews recently left Woods to play full-time with Quilt). Earl took the lead on his signature Silvertone guitar to play the fiery conclusion to “Sun City Creeps.”

“The Take” followed, offering a less headstrong, more contemplative mood. Chuck Van Dyck’s cyclical bassline and Aaron Neveu’s mallet work on the drums provided the rhythmic foundation for this musical walk in the woods. Many of Woods’ songs, particularly those off the new City Sun Eater in the River of Light, seem to embody the band’s earthy name. Despite the folk influences and clean-cut tones, this isn’t the Americana music of the Appalachian woods, but a more mystical sound native to the foggy woods of the Pacific Northwest.

Woods then delved deeper into their discography, meandering through “Shepherd” from 2014’s With Light and With Love, “Cali In A Cup” off 2012’s Bend Beyond, and an At Echo Lake track from 2010, “Suffering Season.”

Jeremy Earl and company ratcheted up the intensity to end the set. The new feel-good rocker “Creature Comfort” led into “With Light And With Love,” a 10-minute psychedelic escapade with Earl’s foreboding refrain: “Death brings us close/Death brings the ghost.” With every intensifying stop and start the, the band dropped further and further into the ghost’s gloomy realm.

The crowd cheered and urged to play on. Woods obliged and kicked into the catchy sing-along “Moving To The Left,” before inviting Ultimate Painting’s Jack Cooper onstage for a cover of Graham Nash’s 45-year-old tune, “Military Madness.”

This cover served to put this Woods show into perspective. The folk rock rhythms and structures Woods employs have essentially remained intact since Graham Nash’s time. But lyrics like those written by Jeremy Earl, have become largely introspective and personal – more abstract but no less brooding than Nash’s overt political commentary in “Military Madness.” Woods songs are not so much songs for a generation, but songs for individuals within that generation – about 200 of them, in fact, all crammed into the back room of an old country bar in Philadelphia.

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