Driving around the lake Wednesday night was like driving through a literal manifestation of Mother Nature having the flu. Rain and snow were plopping from the sky, making the road into a swampland of snot, turning a beautiful drive around the lake into a treacherous chore. Staying at home under the covers would have been the most logical thing to do under the circumstances.
And yet the people of Tahoe can be a little crazy about things, especially when it comes to their music. The night’s show was sold out and it seemed just about everyone who bought a ticket had braved the conditions and found their way to the Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room. The room was buzzing with energy as everyone waited for the crown jewel of the evening: The Wood Brothers.
Cool, calm and collected, bioglocal brothers Oliver and Chris Wood, and their musical brother Jano Rix, strolled onto the stage about 9:30 p.m. to a chorus of yips and applause. The trio kicked off its set with the lurching “Stumbled In,” with the line, “This must be heaven and I stumbled in,” nailing the vibe of the moment. Outside was cold, wet and dark. Thankfully, everyone had managed to stumble into the warm and dry Crown Room, with nothing but friends, drinks and wonderful music for the foreseeable future. If that’s not heaven, I don’t know what is.
Over the next two-ish hours, The Wood Brothers delighted the crowd with its signature blend of roots-inspired rock and proved why they are one of the most uniquely talented and cool bands around. At the heart of the music is a willingness to defy conventions and that starts with who Oliver, Chris and Jano are as musicians. Chris made a name for himself with avant-garde jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood, while Oliver cut his teeth playing with Tinsley Ellis and his own bluesy band, King Country. Finally, Jano Rix comes into the fold as an ace-in-the-hole multi-instrumentalist who plays everything from keyboards to drums to Shuitar (his own personal, musical Frankenstein). Oh yeah, and they all can sing like it’s Sunday morning.
Add that all up and you’ve got a trio of wonderful musical minds that can find the unique balance of rock, country, blues, folk and gospel that can’t be done by anyone else but The Wood Brothers. “Sky High” and it’s funky-duck blues gave everyone a little rhythm to glide by while “Chocolate On My Tongue” was a sensual ode to sweetness that Oliver highlighted with sugary licks of acoustic gospel. The infectious “wow” of the Wood was probably most exemplified by a ramshackle run through “Snake Eyes,” with Jano laying down a pocket rhythm that Chris danced over, Oliver scorched over and all three sang over with joyful conviction.
Everyone in the room had a chance to shine. Oliver had a dirty sin of a solo on “Never Can Pray Enough” and endearingly sang like an angel who smoked Camel-wide cigarettes. On a tender “Keep Me Around,” Chris’ bubbling, nimble bass line brightened the beauty of the acoustic track and kept your foot tapping while the song tugged at your heart strings. As a band, The Wood Brothers absolutely burned the house down on an extended “Happiness Jones” that featured a teased out intro jam from Jano and Chris and then segued into a full blown “Express Yourself” cover from Charles Wright halfway through. The audience even had its own special moment, singing lead on a run through an uplifting “Loaded” and somehow making a room of almost 700 people feel as intimate as a back porch.
The night’s highlight, however, fell to X-factor Jano Rix. During what is probably the group’s most well-known song, “Luckiest Man,” he took center stage and did one of the most impressive things I’ve seen any musician do. As he held it down on drums with his left hand, he let fly with his right hand on a spirited keyboard solo. It was just dumbfounding to see that type of versatility and skill and the crowd deservedly gave him the biggest ovation of the night.
Midway through the set, Oliver took the chance to profusely thank the roadies and crew whose hard work and determination had gotten them to the show. He mentioned that the concert almost never happened. The band’s bus broke down earlier in the day, the snow and rain had kept them changing over chains as they made their way through the mountains and they literally came to a stop at the Crystal Bay Casino sideways on a skid.
But they got there and everyone at that show should send them a thanks. Those men and women provided the opportunity for The Wood Brothers to grace the stage of the Crown Room for the first time and Chris, Oliver and Jano absolutely stunned the audience in their magnificent debut. Wednesday night, we all found shelter from the storm and created our own little paradise.
— Garrett Bethmann