Jano Rix can most assuredly walk and chew gum.
Rix, the one Wood Brother who is not a Wood brother, spends much of the group’s shows seated behind his small kit, working his drums with his feet and left hand while playing keyboards with his right.
This is, of course, when Rix isn’t busy at center stage, playing shuitar, other percussion and melodica in the three-man band.
Bassist Chris Wood is like a real-world version of Snoopy, dancing with his upright bass, dipping and spinning his instrument and sometimes putting it down to glide across and around the stage as Rix and older brother Oliver take the music to 11. Chris also plays harmonica and a Paul McCartney-style Hofner violin bass and harmonizes with his bandmates to create a rare vocal blend that makes the Wood Brothers’ work nearly as much about singing as playing..
Then there’s Oliver, the slightly nasally vocalist and guitarist. The least-animated of the three and the trio’s nominal front man – the guy who sings the songs and holds everything together on acoustic, electric and slide guitar.
Rarely less than excellent when they take the concert stage, the Wood Brothers were downright phenomenal in a sold-out Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville, Ohio, where an ecstatic audience filled the pit early and where band and fans fed off each other for an electrifying, 105-minute performance. Sometimes loud, other times quiet; often raucous, occasionally hushed; playing the blues, rock ‘n’ roll, old-timey roots numbers and paying tribute to Tom Petty with “You Wreck Me,” the Woods put everything on the table and flipped that sucker to create a genre of one – the unique thing called Wood Brothers music.
The brothers opened with a stripped-down version of “Singing of Strangers,” an ironic choice as the Opera House was full of musical friends and the concert had a family feel from front to back.
They trotted out the tracks that are typical of a Wood Brothers set – the choogling “Tried and Tempted,” the singalong “Snake Eyes” and the gentle “Postcards from Hell.” The trio previewed its forthcoming 2018 LP with “River Takes the Town,” a new song whose lyrics harken back to the first half of the 20th century and whose music typifies the contemporary Americana movement.
As is their wont, the players gathered around their vintage mic about halfway through the night in what Chris described as the “Oh, Wood Brother Where Art Thou?” portion of the show and caused Oliver to good-naturedly remind the enthusiastic concertgoers to “shut your pie holes” for a while. With houselights low and anticipation high, the band harmonized on a few numbers including “Sing About It” and “Down by the Riverside,” on which they were joined by opener Sean McConnell for chilling, four-part harmonies and the chance for each man to sing a verse solo.
McConnell is blessed with a powerful voice and his 35-minute opening set of story-songs was well-received enough to earn him a standing O after he tacked a bit of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” on to his closing number. This elicited whoops of recognition and was likely designed to throw a bone to the audience, whom he acknowledged probably didn’t know the difference between one of his new and one of his old songs.