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Live Review and Photos: Woods, April 22, 2011, Eagle Rock Center for the Arts – Los Angeles, CA


Despite both widespread acclaim and fans that once introduced become rabid devotees, Woods still feels very much on the outskirts of the musical consciousness. And the truth is, this is both because of, and in spite of, who Woods are as a band. On one hand, the four-piece Brooklyn band plays a brand of psych-folk that has a firm limit on the amount of commercial appeal it could possibly attain without discarding the fundamental elements that make Woods lovable in the first place. But, the other hand is that the group is the flagship band for the Woodsist record label, run by the band’s singer and primary songwriter Jeremy Earl, and even has their own music festival (also titled Woodsist) that has run the past couple of years with label-mates Real Estate.

This feeling of watching a still-unknown gem came into play on Friday night at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts when the venue barely reached half-capacity for the strong three-band bill, which included No Joy and Wampire. Not that a big turnout was expected. The show was not highly publicized and held at a venue that is off the beaten path of the Echo Park/Silverlake scene that Woods probably thrives in. But, this made for a better evening, by far. Lost was any aspect of a scene-y show and in its stead was a gathering of people, all very much into the music, enjoying a Friday night outside of the typical confines that L.A. so often thrusts upon us.

Wampire, a sort of 60’s-ish garage-psych act, provided the most danceable set of the night, allowing the crowd to bounce in the shadowy hall that was filled with fake fog and a singular bright blue light. While there are a million acts, for better or worse, who play music in this vein and of Wampire’s caliber, the band distinguished themselves through a Middle-Eastern leaning (I swear one song was sung in Yiddish) and a we-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude that suited their surprisingly polished playing. Their set was strikingly long, at nearly 45 minutes, and allowed the band to show a range from foot-stomping rockers to girl-group inspired ballads. But by the end, the band took to the audience to connect on a personal level with the attendees, while practically making love to the stage. It worked — their set went over perfectly.

No Joy, perhaps best known for their recent tour and release with Best Coast and Wavves, have the we-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude down pat. As the band set up, their bassist literally joined them a minute before they started playing. He didn’t even appear to tune. It didn’t matter.

What No Joy get right is controlling their own chaos. Songs begin with ghostly samples (after-all, their album is called Ghost Blonde), feedback, and what appear to be random off-key guitar notes. But, before you know it, songs form and connect, like they were stumbled upon accidentally. Of course, they aren’t. I wouldn’t doubt that much of the sound that No Joy puts out is carefully planned, but they hide it underneath moppy blonde hair and a wall of noise. At the conclusion of their set, the band simply turned-off their equipment and packed up, without a word or indication that they were happy with their set. If anything, this only added to the mystery, that made the audience wonder where this music is coming from, and, more importantly, where it is headed. Those of us near the front got hints of answers to these throughout, with knowing grins coming from underneath the shag of principals Jasmine White-Glutz and Laura Lloyd. They have a roadmap, and it’s up to us to go for a ride.

If there was anything to be disappointed about during Woods set, it was that the band didn’t use the relaxed atmosphere to try out some new material, which I suspected was the reason for the show, especially considering the new album, Sun & Shade, is set to arrive in less than two months. But, only the opener, “Pushing Onlys,” is technically new, and even that song has already popped-up on the internet as an advance single. Petty gripes aside, though, the band was in fine form, taking most of their old numbers to new heights through carefully planned turns.

On “Rain On,” probably their most well-known number, Earl seemed to puss-out on the high notes on the line “I won’t struggle through,” but as the song continued, it became apparent that he was saving the vocal reach for a one-time-only moment that sent a collective chill down the spine of the audience. “Blood Dries Darker” saw a similar approach employed, with the second chorus soaring after the first chorus seemed to take the easy way out. These turns provided subtle drama to the set because Earl’s vocals are so damn powerful. Making the audience feel disappointment, relief, and, ultimately, exhilaration over the course of a single song is a feat and speaks to Earl as a considerate performer, and a thoughtful one.

And then there is G. Lucas Crane, the tape-effects artist who is mesmerizing to watch work. Armed with a couple of tape decks and 20 or so knobs and switches, I couldn’t tell you how any of it worked. But, the results could be heard in the haze and textures that filled out each song. This element takes Woods beyond great folk and into more artsy and experimental territory. And Woods would be successful as the former, but as the latter they make their own path. What could have been a common set choice on the one-two punch of “To Clean” and “Get Back” was rather seamlessly melted into each other, with “Get Back” finding new melodical lines to draw, going above and beyond the laid-back album version. Finally, for a close, Woods incorporated their psych tendencies, extending “I Was Gone” into a full-out jam session, where all four musicians on stage shadowboxed with each other until finally winding down into a graceful and completing conclusion. Yeah, I would have like to have heard some new songs from Woods, but we were treated to better. Instead, we saw a band preparing to try new things. At least, I hope so.

Setlist:

Pushing Onlys
Suffering Season
I’m Not Gone
Rain On
Be All Be Easy
Blood Dries Darker
To Clean
Get Back
I Was Gone


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