The Wood Brothers have been playing together for over twenty years after previously pursuing separate musical careers. They have recorded nine albums and toured relentlessly but have been infrequent visitors to the UK and tonight was indeed the first ever time that they had played in Manchester. They would have been heartened therefore to be greeted by a full house seemingly split between the dedicated and the curious.
Kicking off with a succession of lively blues-rockers, a perfectly paced set ranged from those to an acoustic section where the three band members gathered round a single microphone to play acoustic songs drawn much more from the American folk tradition. The long-haired elder Wood brother Oliver is an engaging front man on guitar and lead vocal duties as he handled blues, gospel, folk and jazz styles with the equal ease you might expect from such a seasoned performer. However, as the two stood side-by-side stage front it was younger brother Chris, resplendent in his Gambler style hat, that tended to catch the attention with his astonishing bass playing, both on upright and violin style electric bass. He also proved to be a very accomplished harmonica player too, frequently playing both instruments simultaneously with equal finesse and panache. He was a genuine showman, not in a showy way, but by the force of his playing, his dress and his stage presence.
Further underlying the high level of musicianship on show, the third member of the band, multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix, played mainly drums and keyboards and if that seems like an unlikely combination in itself, the sight and sound of him playing them at the same time really was something to behold. He also brought out something that he called a ‘Shuitar’ for the acoustic passages. This turned out to be an old guitar that had been converted to be used as a percussion instrument. You can watch Jano’s own explanation here and I strongly advise that you do, as it is quite fascinating.
Notwithstanding the high standard of musicianship on show, the Wood Brothers can also turn out some exceptionally well-crafted tunes. They played for the best part of two hours, seemed a little surprised, but delighted to have such an attentive and appreciative crowd to play to, commenting that that wasn’t always the case back home. Large sections of some of their songs were also heartily sung along with. I guess when you are thousands of miles from home, in a city where you’ve never played before, that must be very heartening indeed. It’s also testimony to modern communications technology and pleasingly an indication that there a good number of people still around who are willing to seek out their own grooves from the plethora of hard-working and talented writers and musicians out there, rather than just accept a bland diet of music piped into their lives by large corporations.
So, the Wood Brothers came, played, and largely conquered those that were not already fans. They found that perfect line between tight delivery, honed over years together, and the energy and spontaneity that makes each performance a unique experience. Hopefully, other dates on their short UK tour go equally well and we’ll see them back a little more often in future.