Woods and The Fresh & Onlys at the 7th St. Entry, 7/18/11
It was a night of 1960s-influenced tunes at the Entry on Monday night as Pitchfork darlings Woods and the Fresh & Onlys took the stage together. Reflecting their coastal divide (Woods in New York, Fresh & Onlys in San Francisco), the two groups took rather opposite paths to tap in to the spirit of the 1960s.
A blisteringly tight four-piece rock band, the Fresh & Onlys specialize in revved-up garage rock with hints of surf guitar thrown in every now and then. There were no Beach Boys harmonies or "be true to your school" chants; the Fresh & Onlys only preserved surf rock's cascading guitar lines, burying them in doses of reverb.
On the other hand, Woods have honed their skewed pop/folk/psychedelic chops over a handful of records, tapes, and EPs, some under the name Woods Family Creeps and most released by singer Jeremy Earl's Woodsist label. Instead of simply aping Dylan or other standard '60s influences, the NYC quartet cleverly updates their more psychedelic leanings through warped vocal and tape effects. Despite their relatively minimal interactions with the crowd, both bands put together impressive, diverse sets that played to their strengths as musicians.
After local favorites Me and My Arrow chugged through their huge, anthemic opening set, the Fresh & Onlys emerged looking very San Francisco: lead singer Tim Cohen wore a Grateful Dead dancing bears tie-dye shirt and bucket style fishing hat, and long hair was practically the band uniform. However, those looking for sprawling Dead jams were probably disappointed as soon as the Fresh & Onlys kicked in to their rollicking first song.
Their songs have a familiarity to them: the jangly pop sound and guitar interplay could almost come from any number of indie bands, but the Fresh & Onlys' songs take on a more mysterious sound. Cohen's lower delivery and the guitarist Wymond Miles' dark tone conjure a much different atmosphere than straight ahead jangle-pop. The band's all-around skill on their instruments, quick tempos and loud dynamics often sounded more like a punk take on surf rock, minus the posturing.
The Fresh & Onlys had the crowd buzzing with excitement in anticipation of Woods, and the unassuming quartet soon settled in to "Pushing Onlys," the sunny first track this year's Sun and Shade, followed with the shimmering "Suffering Season" from At Echo Lake.
Woods is a mysterious band to listen to, and even after seeing them live, they still raise just as many questions. All of their records (and especially the new one, Sun and Shade) have a lo-fi sound coupled with doses of warped vocal and guitar effects of unknown origins. Underneath the effects are beautiful folk songs, rollicking '60s psychedelia, and many sunny guitar pop tunes. Everything is unified by lead singer Jeremy Earl's singular voice, a high, clear tenor that works strangely well for their songs, even though it can sound nasal at times.
Live, the quartet uses guitar (sometimes two), bass, drums, and a tape effects console, which was a mysterious rig of faders, switches, pedals and multiple tape decks all played by G. Lucas Crane. The tape effects were almost certainly the highlight of the show; Crane swayed back and forth, singing in to a pair of headphones while manipulating the controls of his rig with dexterity to create swells of noise threatened to overtake the songs. It was fascinating to watch him add sounds to the mix, especially when he dropped out for sparser parts to showcase what the band sounded like without the effects.
Tom Pilcher Crane's magical mystery rig.
After solving the mystery of the effects (or at least where they come from, if not how they're achieved), the band's performance revealed another key aspect of their sound: Woods is all about atmosphere. On the Entry's small stage, the band communicated a deep connection through their performance, and it almost felt like the crowd was witnessing a private musical experience between the band members. The smell of incense wafted from the stage at the start of their ten-song set, and their minimal interactions with the crowd signaled their focus.
Woods' set spanned their career and their range of sounds. In addition to their folk/pop/psychedelic chops, Woods are also known for their jam songs; Sun and Shade contains two tracks that find them stretching themselves out with experimentation beyond the normal reaches of a pop song. True to form, they played two long-form jams which were received with varying degrees of enthusiasm from the crowd.
The first jam happened relatively early in the set, and found the band's drummer and bass player switching roles, the original drummer taking up electric guitar. The dueling electric guitars, coupled with the tape effects, created huge swatches of sound that threatened to take off, but never seemed to fully leave the ground because of the insistent drum beat. Their second, set-closing jam was much longer, and like most jams, it had its peaks, but perhaps went on for too long. You have to admire a band that feels comfortable enough with themselves to play extended jams, especially when their shorter-form pop songs are so strong.
But again, these long jams are clearly a part of Woods' DNA as a band, and it was clear that the band was not changing themselves to appeal to any crowd in particular. Looking back, it's refreshing to see a live band so comfortable with their sound, their aesthetic, and their presentation. However, the crowd would have really appreciated an encore.
Even if the jams didn't land with the whole crowd, Woods' set still impressed. The subtle touches on the folky "Be All Easy" and the perfect guitar fills during "Rain On Radio" made for an engaging performance.
Woods' live show didn't clear up all of the mysteries about their sound or their uncanny musical approach, but this style really works for them. They're going to keep making experimental pop/folk/whatever, and listeners can take what they will from it. If this noisier, experimental music falls out of vogue in two years, they won't be the first band to jump on board with the new hip sound. You have to give them props for that.
Personal bias: Recently had a great experience jamming to Sun and Shade while driving back to Minneapolis on a sunny day. That's when the album made the most sense
The crowd: Very, very into both bands
Random notebook dump: I thought they'd only play songs from their newer albums (the ones I know). Guess not!
- Nice use of incense - a note I never thought I would write
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