Live: Woods Looks to the Past at Bowery, But Also to the Right Now

08/15/2011 12:45 PM |

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Woods, Ducktails, White Fence, Widowspeak
Live at Bowery Ballroom
Saturday, August 13, 2011

There has been an awful lot of discussion as of late about music’s inclination to regurgitate the past (see: Simon Reynolds’ Retromania and just about every other pop culture blog on the Web), the ill-fated conclusion being that the creative well has run dry. We’re out of ideas. Woods is as guilty of it as anyone, if you want to call it an offense, building a catalog out of the acidy psych-rock of the 60s, folk music as old as time, and a dead-ringer for Neil Young’s frail falsetto. This weekend, they proved that there’s much more to it, though.

There’s G. Lucas Crane’s trembly tape manipulations running an unsettling undercurrent throughout the set. There’s an organ sitting in the corner of the stage this time, its whines adding a haunting, devotional element to an otherwise pagan ritual. And there are extended jams (two, to be exact) that are miles away from anything that their oft-compared inspirers Grateful Dead would ever play; these are interlocked like puzzles, at times swelling with seven members — it’s a Woodsist family reunion up there with White Fence’s Tim Presley and Ducktails’ Matt Mondanile joining on guitar and drums, respectively (both opened the show) — and deep thumps from an unapologetic bass drum. The red light that floods the stage isn’t exactly screaming to put flowers in our hair and hold hands, either.

But more importantly, they put themselves into the show. Not in quippy stage banter or enthusiastic stage presence but in a sincere commitment to the music. Being on the tail end of their North American tour for Sun and Shade, they’re at their peak on Saturday. Take, for instance, “Blood Dries Darker.” When its languid, seesawing melody turns rattled and knotted, like the song suddenly entered a wind tunnel, it’s a strangely optimistic thing to witness. The stage lights turn bright, like daybreak. Crane’s fingers flutter across his table of gadgets, sweat spraying out of that gas-mask-like mouth contraption he has strapped to his face, Jeremy Earl is dead set on hitting every note, the rest of the band appears deep in thought, rutting out their grooves. They’re not disingenuously ripping off the past here. They’re sounding progressive enough, classic enough, and just a out of their minds enough to suggest that there is a way to look backwards, and forward too.