“I played in the big Egg a few times,” Chris Wood mentioned after a few opening tunes with the Wood Brothers, his project away from Medeski, Martin and Wood. “This is like . . . I don’t know what,” he said, referring to the Egg’s smaller but ample Swyer Theater.
“We are the sperm,” blurted his older brother Oliver.
Chris took it further saying, “We are going to fertilize this theater!”
And fertilize it they did, playing a mixture of brand new Wood Brothers material, (now) classic Wood Brothers tunes, deep blues, and Americana roots music.
The Wood Brothers are currently touring on the wave of their live double-vinyl album called Sky High, Live Vol. 1 & 2, which features favorites like “Spirit” and “Shoofly Pie” that were performed Friday.
“One of the best things about traveling is that you make good friends all over the world if you’re lucky,” Chris said. “Sometimes your friends help you and some times they hurt you because they’re so good to you. We played Fairfield, Connecticut, last night and stayed up pretty late listening to vinyl and . . . imbibing, so we’re kind of hurting right now, but I guess my point is that it sounds better on vinyl!”
Drummer, percussionist, vocalist and melodica-ist Jano Rix has become a welcome third party on the Wood Brothers’ tours, as he has proven to be an imaginative soloist and melodic percussionist. He brings new meaning to the term “rhythm guitarist.” He gives a hard knock on the side of an acoustic with his left hand while eliciting a bass-drum-like thump on the front with his right. In addition, you can hear tambourine-like bells vibrating along. “The Shitar” is the technical term the Wood Brothers have devised for this unique instrument.
Mind you, the Wood Brothers can break it down and command the full attention of a theater with their stories, but they can also levitate the spirits of the room. The absolute climax of the whole night came during “One More Day” as Rix took a drum solo and Chris put down his bass to shimmy around the stage. The whole audience started getting up and dancing too, and Oliver laid down some electric blues over the drums that practically set the stage on fire, with the lights shifting to a thermal orange. The whole time these guys are doing their thing, the audience is shouting, whistling, hollering, dancing and generally rising up. As soon as they finished to a near unanimous standing ovation, Chris said, “I think we peaked too soon.”
Rather than try and top the excitement and flammability of the last tune, they chose to steer the vibe in a different direction by making use of their friend “Big Mike,” the big old condenser mic that “hears everything.” Rather than singing into their own private vocal mics and playing their instruments through the house sound, they gathered around “Big Mike” and the stadium of the Egg turned into a cozy living room with a Victrola.
Part of the sheer genius of this group is their ability to evolve. Seven years ago the Wood Brothers made one of their first appearances in Albany in front of no more than 100 people at Savannah’s, and absolutely slayed the room with their enthralling sound and personality. Now the Wood Brothers are able to command an audience of more than 350 people in a regional theater. With a continuing tour, a new set of live records and a new studio album slated to record next month, these guys are definitely on a roll.