Photography by Diego Villarroel
By Simon Luedtke
The Wood Brothers took the House of Blues by storm Saturday night. The venue was packed from start to finish, and the band’s loyal fanbase chanted nearly every lyric. The trio was just nominated for their first ever Grammy Nomination. Their sixth album One Drop of Truth, released in February of last year, earned a nod in the “Best Americana Album” category. Riding their ever-growing critical and commercial success, The Wood Brothers ended their two-week mini-tour in Boston.
Chris and Oliver Wood
Two of The Wood Brothers are real brothers. Chris and Oliver were raised on deep blues and folk influences, and music followed them into their early adult lives. Oliver, the older brother, left their Colorado home to move to Atlanta. His skills on the guitar soon landed him a touring gig with Tinsley Ellis. Once he began singing, he founded King Johnson. The tour-heavy blues-influenced funk and R&B group produced six albums during their 12-year run.
Chris is a highly trained jazz bassist, who attended the New England Conservatory of Music. Shortly after making his way to New York City, he formed Medeski, Martin & Wood (MMW). The contemporary jazz group dabbled in abstract music, gaining a deeply rooted niche audience. At a concert in North Carolina, Chris and Oliver joined forces for the first time onstage. It marked a turning point for the two. They relocated to Nashville and picked up Jano Rix for drums/supporting instruments. They have been performing together as The Wood Brothers ever since. Their very first album together garnered rave critical reviews from major sources like Amazon and NPR.
A Rousing Opener
Given the large collection of Live EPs the Wood Brothers had produced, I knew they were born to perform. However, before I got to witness their onstage prowess, I was introduced to an opener that I won’t soon forget. The 30 years young Priscilla Renea, joined by her two supporting instrumentalists, brought a lively and jovial air to the House of Blues. Her trio was undeniably string heavy, featuring several guitars, a banjo, and a harp (of all things). In her brief set, Renea showed incredible range, showcasing her powerful vocals on several tracks. “Jonjo” examined her love-hate relationship with her brother, while the rousing “Let’s Build a House” brought everyone to their feet. Renea even performed a traditional jig and sang “Happy Birthday” backward (by which I mean facing away from the crowd). Renea and her friends were the perfect primers for the act to come.
The Main Act
The Wood Brothers brought more than smiles and thoughts of the heartland to the stage. The trio brought with them a Southern breeze that breathed new life into the venue. By the end of their opener “Postcards from Hell,” most of the audience forgot they were even in Boston. Oliver toyed with the crowd for “Mary Anna,” as he listed his favorite lights: moonlight, sunlight, Bud Light, Miller Light, and Corona Light, of course.
There were 12+ instruments on stage. Believe me, I tried to count an exact number but the flurry of solos that ensued in the first half hour alone made it impossible. The heavily distorted fender on “Pray Enough” put the Blues in House of Blues just two songs into the set. The entire first half of the set leaned heavily on their country influences, but every so often a lick of funk would work its way in.
The Americana Everymen
During the concert, each one of the musicians accomplished something extraordinary with apparent ease. Jano played a whole track with his right hand on the drums and his left on the keyboard. Chris laid down an audible and innovative solo on upright bass that even incorporated his bow. And Oliver managed to play a tune on all five of his guitars while keeping his hair out of his face. These three were professionals, and the crowd knew it. The Wood Brothers showed how their varying musical backgrounds had turned them into exquisitely crafted Americana Everymen. Even their dress reflected their musicality. Jano’s shining bald head and muscle shirt had him pinned as a garage rock band drummer from the start. Chris’s tight black button up would have looked right at home in a New York jazz club. Oliver’s getup looked like something off of a Fleetwood Mac cover, and his silky voice only aided that comparison.
Fans kept the concert hall alive even after the show was over. They spoke at length about “Smoke Ring Halo” transitioned perfectly into “Mary Anna.” And how “Sky High” gave them a taste for Oliver’s experience in abstract music. “Snake Eyes” was certainly a favorite, as it introduced some folk rock attitude into the mix. The Wood Brothers delivered, and then some, during their set at House of Blues. They’ve already got people talking about when they’ll return.