Whoever said roots music has no place in Hollywood should have been at The Troubadour on Friday night. A sold-out, noticeably eclectic crowd ranging from Silver Lake hipsters to couples in their mid-fifties packed the historic venue to hear from The Wood Brothers. Comprised of real-life Boulder, Colo. siblings Chris on upright bass and Oliver (guitar, lead acoustics), the band came together after 15 years of solo acts. With the addition of multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, The Wood Brothers offered a jazzy Americana sound that even they can’t really describe.
Along with her backing trio The Handsome Strangers, opening act Amy Helm began the night with a refreshing take on a traditional brand of folk music, perhaps best epitomized by her drummer’s use of a washboard in lieu of a snare drum. Her groovy folk sound meshed nicely with The Troubadour’s rustic surroundings, and compelled more than one person to turn from the bar and pay attention. Helm filled the role of an opening act perfectly, but even she knew the crowd was growing antsy for the main act. The Wood Brothers stepped onto the stage at 9:15 p.m. for their hour and a half set, and didn’t disappoint.
Chris’s fingers did the singing to start out the show during a smooth five-minute bass solo. The boys jumped into “The Muse,” the track that serves as the namesake of their fifth studio album released this past October. Their perfectly balanced harmony was raw and unpolished and complimented the song’s theme of a fleeting love. It was also the audience’s first encounter with Rix, who arose as the surprise of the night. Equipped with a tricked out, bell-strapped guitar that he affectionately refers to as a “shittar,” Rix kept a steady and multifaceted beat throughout the entire set, utilizing anything he had that could make a sound. His moment in the spotlight came early on during “Keep Me Around,” a romantic song in which the Brothers’ admittance of desperation is summed up in one phrase, “Will you keep me around?”
The Brothers played two of their hit songs back-to-back, “Wastin’ My Mind” and “Postcards From Hell”. The latter performance was perhaps the most poignant one of the night, and it definitely evoked an emotional response from the performers.
Oliver explained that lyrics like “Set up in a bar room corner / Playin’ for tips and beer / People carryin’ on and drinkin’/ You gotta strain to hear,” are meant as an ode to the struggling musician. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the most famous or at the very bottom,” he said during the concert. “Anyone who’s pouring their heart out onstage deserves to be heard.”
A special moment occurred halfway through their set when the band unplugged and invited Amy Helm back to the stage for an acoustic performance. The crowd listened intensely to the quartet’s cover of “Angel Band,” a 19th century hymn popularized by The Stanley Brothers. The four-part harmony seemed natural and unforced, and the mystique of genuine musicians huddled around a single microphone made for an intimate performance.
The band clearly had an affinity and respect for Helm, and she may soon become a headliner at The Troubadour herself.
After The Wood Brothers played their breakout hit “Luckiest Man,” the crowd got a taste of Chris’s dance moves during “One More Day.” He marched from one side of the stage to the next, keeping a straight face and impressive posture while gyrating his hips and knees.
It was around this time that each member of the band was given his time to shine as the spotlight literally shifted from one man’s solo to the next. The band’s enthusiasm complemented the crowd’s, and was evident in not one, but two encores.
When they stepped back onstage the first time, Oliver offered some of his own thoughts on the band’s sound, “People say we’re blues. People say we’re Americana … what does that even mean? What the heck is Americana?” The crowd howled with laughter, but one can only wonder if it was out of understanding or ignorant confusion.
Overall, it was refreshing to see a band employ the natural tools around them without resorting to electronic effects. The Wood Brothers proved that the authenticity of a worn-down sound trumps a polished studio track any day, especially in an era where over-production is the norm.
The Wood Brothers will be on their international tour until May, performing in various venues throughout the United States as well as The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Belgium.