Woods – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 7, 2016
It felt like two was the number of the night at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday when a stacked bill filled the room with heady tunes for a sold-out crowd. The homemade duo called 75 Dollar Bill opened the show. Stretching just three songs into their 30-minute slot, the two musicians took guitar and percussion to deep places with thrilling blues-raga and trance-out hallucinations that absorbed the murmurs of the early crowd.
Ultimate Painting from London, in the middle slot, embraced their throwback sound, evoking both the Velvet Underground and Brit bands of yore. The set bounced between material from their previous two albums as well as newer songs, gaining strength from the power of two, namely the interplay between guitarists-vocalists Jack Cooper and James Hoare. The vocal harmonies and guitar back and forth brought layers of complexities to the seemingly simple sound. On songs like “Ultimate Painting” and “Central Park Blues,” you could feel a rock and roll explosion bubbling beneath the surface, which finally came in the set-closing “Ten Street” with the band joined by members of Woods. The sound took the additional musicians as fuel, driving the two-drum, two-guitar, sax-and-keys ensemble on a long jam-filled journey that dashed across the surface of multiple sections with a dark “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” energy, Hoare hitting many guitar peaks along the way.
Finally, Woods, home in Brooklyn, played as a six- (and sometimes seven-) piece, but two was still felt in their sound: The band flipping easily between two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Indeed, the dual is-it-a-particle-or-a-wave nature of Woods’ sound was in full effect as they filled their set with contrasting moments of beautiful, rustic folk and vicious, dark psychedelic jamming, a balance few bands since the Grateful Dead of old have had. The performance opened with “Morning Light,” off their acclaimed new album, City Sun Eater in the City of Light, Jeremy Earl’s distinctive falsetto and acoustic guitar countered by Jarvis Taveniere’s slide guitar. The opening section showed off Woods’ prettier side, a guided hike through their musical forest on tunes like “Politics of Free” and “Leaves Like Glass,” off 2014’s With Light and With Love, with its crunch of guitar melody, deliberate rhythms and pensive lyrics. But with a change to electric guitar by Earl and a distinctive change of mood, that hike quickly turned into an off the path, which-way-is-out funked-up mind trip. For “Sun City Creeps” they suddenly had a saxophone-trumpet horn section and a dark, dance-ready, bass-drum groove.
At a couple of moments during the show, the music poured out of one song and into the next as if Woods had heated to the point of evaporation, their vapors no longer contained and flowing into the room. The first of these came out of “Sun City Creeps” and led into “The Take,” a slow burner with an evil hypnotic funk that seemed to stretch on forever, jagged guitar soloing over trippy rhythms. The second occurrence was at the end of the set when the music flowed into the closing “With Light and With Love,” which erupted into a fiery extended jam that found climaxes on top of climaxes. The encore featured a jammy “Moving to the Left” and then Cooper returning to help a surprisingly well-fit cover of Graham Nash’s “Military Madness,” perhaps a statement of some sort or maybe just a song to play, but, in the spirit of the evening, most likely both. —A. Stein | @Neddyo