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Born This Way

March 21st, 2012

The Wood Brothers – The Bowery Ballroom – March 20, 2012


Some musicians just get it. You watch them and wonder if they were born with it. Chris Wood is one of those guys. Every time I see him play the bass, I’m stunned by his groovy abilities, and I wonder how much of that is nature and how much is learned. Watching him pair with his older brother, Oliver, to form the Wood Brothers, I get the impression that there is indeed something in those genes. Opening last night’s show at The Bowery Ballroom with “Postcards from Hell,” the brothers—rounded into a trio by Jano Rix on the drums and percussion—revealed their cards early on, matching greasy blues-folk-rock melodies with eloquent lyricism. It was clear that Oliver, sitting on a stool and spinning musical stories, is also one of those guys who gets it, effortlessly churning out guitar licks with just the right amount of twang and grit and singing with a clear, soulful voice.

The set drew from both the Loaded and the newer Smoke Ring Halo albums equally, with the crowd often singing along emphatically. There was a touching moment early in the set when they played “Lovin’ Arms,” a song the brothers penned after the death of their mother, coincidentally five years ago to the day. A new song, “Honey Dripping Off Your Spoon,” had a nice dual structure, with a slinky groove over the verse meeting a bluesy slant for the chorus. Oliver has a voice that draws others into perfect harmony while Chris’s bass playing starts at the toes and works its way up, until the whole body is moving.

At one point Rix, the kind of guy who does a little bit of everything in just the right amounts, left his drum kit and brought what looked to be a guitar, which he played like a bongo, up front for the covers portion of the show. You can tell a lot about a band by its covers, not just which songs they choose, but how they play them. The Wood Brothers’ canon included a fantastic version of “Buy You a Chevrolet,” which Chris bass-fiddled to a delightful pitch. The highlight, though, was when Oliver made a reference to the “other brothers” playing uptown this month and followed it up with the Allman Brothers Band classic “Midnight Rider.” The trio sang in perfect harmony and then Chris took the guitar solo with a bow and somehow made it his own. By show’s end, the audience demanded a second encore after the first failed to satisfy completely. These guys were making it look easy, like they were born to do it. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno | mikebenigno.wordpress.com