in performance: the wood brothers/nicole atkins

The Wood Brothers, from left: Jano Rix, Oliver Wood and Chris Wood. Photo by Alysse Gafkjen.

After nearly an hour’s worth of tunes that began as a rootsy acoustic incantation and ended with a rhythm-savvy charge worthy of a New Orleans street parade, the Wood Brothers all but shut the show down last night at the Kentucky Theatre. With the trio huddled around a single microphone, the music was pared down to an almost primordial level of folk aesthetics.

There, vocalist Oliver Wood, sibling bassist Chris Wood and percussionist Jano Rix (doubling, at this moment, on melodica) stood playing the faintest of music in the faintest of light. Specifically, what was summoned was the title tune to the 2013 album “The Muse.” The overall feel, though, was that of a decades-old séance, a mood Chris Wood dubbed “O, Wood Brothers, Where Art Thou?” The song also served as the eye of a hurricane, one that merrily slapped together blues, folk, pop, a hint of country and a touch of jazz for a sound that rolled with the assurance of a freight train for just under two hours. Not coincidentally, a cover of the 60-plus year old Elizabeth Cotton folk gem “Freight Train” was later served as a lullaby-like encore before a barnstorming blues-rock mash-up of “Honey Jar” closed the performance for real.

What continually made the Wood Brothers such a distinct and intriguing combo was, ironically, a very familiar formula – a strong, unified sound made up of three distinct components, all of which were in top form last night.

Oliver Wood proved the unassuming frontman, an artist whose singing was as focused and unfussy as his playing. He served as the soulful carnival barker for the Crescent City-flavored “One More Day” but also folded the music into darker yet ultimately warmer corners for the campfire-like confessional “Sing About It.”

While his guitar work, especially wiry steel guitar leads utilized throughout the show, served as functional color for the music, the trio’s pilot was clearly Chris Wood. Playing the first half of the program by applying an atypically jazzy dexterity to the upright bass (atypical, at least, for a non-jazz outing) and then adding thunderous leads and grooves to the second half on an electric Hofner bass, brother Chris underscored the show’s impressive rhythmic and stylistic dexterity. He also took an absorbing vocal lead on “The Shore,” a groove parade built from a bass/harmonica framework that remained spacious enough for a few shades of guitar psychedelia to shine through.

Riding shotgun throughout all of this was Rix, a stand-up percussionist (on the guitar-shaped percussion device dubbed the shuitar) as well as a sit down drummer that regularly doubled on keyboards. From his Rhodes-like keyboard runs during a cover of “Big Boss Man” late in the set to the mix of ragged keys and drums that produced a sound nicely reminiscent of The Band on “Sparkling Wine,” Rix was the fire that fueled the Wood Brothers’ inventive engine room.

An especially nice bonus to last night’s performance was a 35 minute opening set by Nashville-by-way-of-New Jersey songstress Nicole Atkins. An artist with an almost cinematic feel for pop tradition, as well as a voice capable of showing off numerous shades from such a scope, Atkins worked her way into a sense of pop grandeur with “Cry, Cry, Cry,” sang with the reach and aim of Roy Orbison on “A Little Crazy” and echoed numerous girl group sensibilities from the 1960s on the set-closing “Listen Up.” A commanding introduction to an especially fine performance evening.



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