There’s something to be said about a rock band completely faithful to their album, especially when there are so many people who’ve grown to know and love the recordings. But that doesn’t mean that some bands aren’t castrated by the confines of a studio. In the airy intimacy of a dim-lit, stone-walled Monster Island Basement, Woods put their highly acclaimed records, 2009’s Songs of Shame among them, well, to shame.
They have always been a band with a dialectical conflict. They write great pop songs and yet improvisation is still a major part of their music. So the struggle is to reconcile these sprawling, free-range psychedelic jams and their structured, melancholy masterpieces all in one set.
Bearded and bespectacled, looking every bit a young Allan Ginsberg, Jeremy Earl sat strumming a booming acoustic, his voice clear, loud and emotional, his finger-picking so crisp. A more stoic Jarvis Taveniere switched off from drums and bass, holding them down well, but his most impressive contributions coming with his electric guitar work. He’s got a sort of mechanical precision—sometimes tuning up a bit in the middle of songs—colored by the subtle overdrive of an all-tube Orange amp. His background vocals projected through what might as well be an old rotary phone worked in perfect harmony with Jeremy’s cathartic clarity.
“Tape master” George Lucas Crane sat fiddling around with a shell shaker, yelling into a neon green pair of headphones, bring the sounds of the wild, the mountains and the plains, and doing whatever the hell else he does with all those analogue cassette-tape loops and samples. In an evening already saturated with reverb, echo, delay, et. al—from Ducktail’s endless layers of loops to Metal Mountain’s delay and wah expression pedal-aided violin—nothing sounded quite as warm and comforting as the old stuff.
There was a lot of improvising, a lot of winging it happening, but it was all spot on. They know how to jam together—the whole damn crew. Real Estate bass player, Alex Bleeker, who was hanging around during the night and “the duck” (aka Ducktail’s Matthew Mondanile, who also happens to be in Real Estate) each joined in on drums for a few songs, and Matt on bass for one.
And then there was the loop. It was a highlight late in the set. Jarvis sent it backwards and layered over it, keeping it classy, without letting the technology consume or displace technique. Jeremy soloed and George freaked the fuck out. All of a sudden the loop cut out and they went right into a memorably tragic version of “Born to Lose.” It was seamless and pure: clearer than on record (kudos, Monster Island), and it felt spontaneous and completely one of a kind—unless you saw the set list. Even then, it didn’t matter.