Singin’ To Strangers: The Wood Brothers at Webster Hall

On Friday, February 10 at Webster Hall in Manhattan, The Wood Brothers brought their unique blend of soul, folk and rock to a packed house. In a venue known for DJs and dance parties, the rare bill featured an Oakland based indie-Americana band known as The T Sisters. A short opening set from the ladies warmed the room up for the main family act of the evening and created a comfortable space for everyone in the room.

As the stage darkened and The Wood Brothers appeared in the shadows, the heartbeat of “Stop That Train” began pulsating on stage. The song, popularized by Bob Marley and The Wailers, created a fantastic segue for “Two Places” off their newest studio album Paradise. The topics of lost love and the urge to embark on a new adventure are etched into the lyrics of both songs. “All my life, I’ve been a lonely man,” paralleled with “I’m livin’ a beautiful dream while I’m chasing another” made this opening combo one of the most delicately crafted surprises of the show, and we had only just begun.

Couples began embracing each other during the always-beautiful “Keep Me Around” as Jano Rix gave the song something extra with his self-made instrument, the Shuitar. Friday night partiers at the venue bar slammed rounds of shots after Oliver Wood announced that the song, “Loaded” was on their newest live album, Live at the Barn. Much like the recorded rendition, Oliver asked for assistance from the rowdy audience and we were happy to belt out the playful lyrics along with them.

The trio always does an outstanding job of cleverly crafting their set lists and digging deep into the twelve-year-old catalog. Friday night was no exception. “Tried and Tempted,” which found its way into the sixth spot of the set list, can be heard on their debut record, Ways Not To Lose. In only a half dozen tunes, they had played a new cover and songs from each and every one of their five studio releases. Chris Wood showed off his moves during “Snakes Eyes” and got the crowd shaking along with him during this crisp and rocking version. Oliver unleashed a new song with a bluesy reggae feel and since they have been working on some new material in their hometown of Nashville, TN, one can only hope that a new studio album is on the horizon. The year 2016 sucked for so many reasons, and the lack of a Wood Brothers original release didn’t help.

Speaking of 2016, “American Heartache” was next up and lead into an uplifting “Atlas” which was one of the first songs the Wood Brothers ever played onstage nearly a dozen years ago in the same city. The somber “Blue and Green” mellowed Webster Hall out before “One More Day” brought the fire to a roar and allowed Oliver to show off some unusually bluesy chops at the end the tune.

To the crowd’s enthusiastic approval, the band brought out Big Mike (an old -timey stand-up microphone) and quietly played one of their loveliest pieces, “The Muse” off the 2013 album with the same name. Along with Big Mike, the brothers also welcomed their opening act, The T Sisters, to join them for another song off The Muse, “Sing About It.” After hearing the live NYC debut of this song at the Bowery Ballroom a few years prior, I knew there was something special about it, but Friday night’s version took it to a whole new level with the addition of female vocalists. In pop culture, three brothers and three sisters sharing the stage may remind you of rainbows, sunshine and dancing all through the night, but unlike the Brady Bunch, the six members on stage Friday night sang about the power of music in its most spiritual and rawest form.

As The T Sisters exited the stage, “Postcards From Hell” kept the relaxed and thought-provoking vibe present in the room. To finish the set, they executed two more songs from their southern rock influenced catalog with “Singin’ To Strangers” and “Honey Jar.” A new version of their old hit “Luckiest Man” brought smiles to faces throughout the room as part one of a two-song encore. The Band’s “Ophelia” closed out the show and gave the audience one more chance to sing along with the trio.  In a recent interview, Oliver mentioned how much of an influence Levon Helm has been for the band’s development, and they certainly paid tribute during the well-received finale.  The show started and ended with classic covers and gave long-time fans and strangers alike one more fantastic Wood Brothers show for the books.

Setlist: Stop That Train> Two Places, Keep Me Around, Loaded, Smoke Ring Halo, Tried and Tempted, Snake Eyes, (New Song), American Heartache, Atlas, Blue And Green, One More Day, Muse*, Sing About It*^, Postcards From Hell, Singin’ To Strangers, Honey Jar

Encore: Luckiest Man, Ophelia

*Big Mike ^w/ The T Sisters

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