The Wood Brothers — Oliver and Chris Wood of Medeski, Martin and Wood — played the Egg’s mostly filled Swyer Theater on Friday night.
Accompanied by a drummer, the trio played original blues-based tunes. Oliver sang lead with strong tunes sounding much like Van Morrison or The Band, and Chris harmonizing on the verses.
Any non-vocal moments were instantly greeted with big cheers from the audience, seemingly hungry to hear MMW-type jams. There was little of that. There were no wild instrumental jams, no pushing any limits. But there were good blues and soul tunes, versatile rhythm guitar from Oliver, with some slide work, and endless cool bass lines — bending and twanging through it all — from Chris.
Chris has a large vocabulary of phrases on his strings, always feeding new ideas, even inside the standard 12-bar blues tunes they played, putting a fresh lens on traditional-sounding structures. He also played some harmonica against his bass lines. You got the feeling he could juggle bowling pins while plucking a swinging a jazz groove.
They played songs like “Sing about Your Troubles,” “You keep Me Around,” “Fox on the Run,” and “Mary Anna.” Many of the tunes, like “Shoofly Pie,” came from their latest live, double-vinyl album. Before playing “Postcards from Hell,” Oliver explained it was a song written for all the musicians who played loud clubs where no one paid attention to the music.
The two brothers spent 15 years apart after college, pursuing separate musical careers. Oliver spent most of his time in the Atlanta area with a band called King Johnson, while Chris traveled the world with MMW. You might not expect Chris in a band like this — given his jazz studies and his recording resume. He is not a man who appears to enjoy himself on stage — rather his presence, with MMW as well, is intense, an artist determined to play his best.
Friday night, he seemed equally intent, as he does with MMW, and seemed to dive into the vocals with emotion. While his role on bass as mostly support may seem a little stifling, given the size of his talent, he appears to find the vocal element liberating.
He did play a beautiful, somewhat sad, solo with a bow. And he can dance, which he showed during his older brother’s slide solo.
“I think we peaked too soon,” Chris said after that moment.
You rarely hear Chris speak at MMW concerts. Friday night, he said a few words, including an original Egg joke: “If all goes well tonight, we’re going to fertilize this concert hall.”
He later explained that the Wood Brothers don’t get to practice a lot, and since they were hitting the studio next month, he told us they were going to “rehearse” a few tunes, “if you don’t mind.” They followed with a bluegrassy ballad in three-part harmony that featured another cool bass solo.
An entertaining Jamie Kent played a folk-rock set to open the show, him on acoustic guitar and an accompanying acoustic bass player. They played solid originals, and offered some insightful commentary about his songwriting.
A few songs in, Kent took out a ukulele and explained that the most awkward dancer wins a CD. A few reluctantly stood to dance. By the second verse, about half the audience was up and dancing badly. Two large fellows came down front to intimately slow dance together, essentially hugging while moving. Everyone agreed after the song that they were the winners.
When things quieted down, they announced that they were brothers.