On a Boston night, where the hometown New England Patriots were in the process of losing the AFC championship, the Wood Brothers were bringing their unique blend of folksy, jazzed out Americana to a small crowd at Club Passim. Doubling as a vegan restaurant during the day, Club Passim has played a low-key, yet pivotal role in the city’s folk scene, incidentally having served as a venue for Chris and Oliver Wood’s father to perform at when he was studying molecular biology at Harvard.
On this evening, the past was the past, and the Wood Brothers were clearly the present. As Chris displayed his flavorful technique on his stand up bass, big brother Oliver brought an original hand-slapping guitar technique to the table that closely resembled a drummer playing snare with brushes. While they both performed on their selective stringed instrument, each dove into well honed harmonies that allowed Chris to exercise the sweetly pitched vocals that he has rarely (if ever), utilized while performing in Medeski, Martin, and Wood.
While Chris knocked on his bass like a percussive instrument, hitting the high notes, Oliver strummed away, going for the lower register with a powerful, yet raspy voice. Both men stood out as talented instrumentalists, but the most memorable sight of the evening were the two brothers belting out each song’s lyrics with their eyes closed as though the practice was genetic.
Unlike Medeski, Martin, and Wood’s free-jazz tendencies, the song writing of the Wood Brothers was heavily structured around lyrics, and the solos each brother incorporated between versus were carefully measured, bar for bar. It seemed as though Chris was holding back his virtuosic tendencies at first, but as the night progressed his masterful control over his instrument shone just as bright as it does with his usual cohorts. The difference in his playing with this act is not so much that he has less time to shine, as much as the improvisational limitations force him to make his solos more to the point.
As the set progressed, its intimacy enhanced. The duo moved through an original called “Chocolate on my Tongue” that rang with the familiarity of CSN&Y styled harmonies, before moving through an innovative cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “ Angel.” While paying homage to their classical rock influences, the Wood Brothers dove right into a cover of the Beatles “Fixing a Hole,” that wrapped up the formal chunk of their set.
The duo returned to the stage for an encore, accompanied by the night’s opener, Tom Hamilton of Brothers Past, before ending an intimate performance that brought Oliver to comment – “To me, any time people are (this) close to you, it definitely makes a difference.” And at that, everyone in attendance left, having been fortunate enough to witness a unique performance that made the crushing Patriots’ loss that much easier to swallow.
Photos by Scott Fleishman