Photo by Brian Stollery
As nights with great storytellers often do, a concert with The Wood Brothers conjures up many things. There are devils and desserts, libations and luck, shushers and covers of Petty and Sister Rosetta. The trio has been making California an annual stop on winter tours for several years now. Moving up from the majestic, yet modest El Rey Theatre to last year’s two-night, sold-out stand at the west end’s The Troubadour, the band’s loyal following has grown again, pushing this return engagement in L.A. to Hollywood’s larger Fonda Theatre.
To a near-capacity house, the three (two actual Wood brothers; Oliver and Chris, and spiritual sibling, Jano Rix) ran through a headline set focused primarily on the group’s latest release, One Drop of Truth. They poured a proverbial glass for the proceedings, opening with the party song from that record, “Sparkling Wine,” with Rix doubling on drums and keyboard, to Oliver’s search for love on another new groove,“This Is It,” and then glorious three-part harmony on the wistful “Keep Me Around.”
For the record’s lead track, the Brothers slowed things down a touch, taking the already laid-back swing of “River Takes the Town” even further back. To “Mary Anna” and a rearrangement of the rhythm, they exchanged a deliberate swing in the chorus for straight line rock. Oliver went electric on the gritty “Tried and Tempted,” Chris staying on acoustic bass and breaking out the bow, then debuting his first lead vocal of the night on the new album’s pleading title track.
The middle section of the show heard a shout-out from Oliver to a mentor in attendance- producer Jim Scott- that introduced the somber, fingerpicked beauty, “Postcards from Hell,” sung by Oliver with haunting patience and attention. A slightly darker tone followed on a pair, as the three tackled “Snake Eyes” and “Laughin’ or Cryin.” For a gather-round on a single-mic, Oliver asked that the “shushers” quiet the talkers, successfully. Openers The Mastersons then joined the Brothers for Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head,” with Oliver encouraging Eleanor Whitmore to take her time on her fiddle solo, and appreciating the inspiring fashion of the husband-wife duo.
To New Orleans and a singalong cover of “I Got Loaded,” the audience belting out lines about whisky and gin, then to “Shoofly Pie,” honoring a delicacy Oliver swears exists. The final electric run of songs- Rix a rock on drums as Chris plugged-in on bass- included another new cut, “Happiness Jones,” and a ferocious tribute take on Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me.” A hushed “Luckiest Man” played as perfect-fit closer, Oliver letting the crowd sing the chorus, only to have the energy meter top out on a funky, driving encore of “Honey Jar.” It was a sweet finale for a show filled with delights old and new, and another winter appearance from The Wood Brothers that kept things warm and toasty in Southern California.