I’m not entirely sure if she was kidding, but Nicole Atkins might be bailing some of her band out of jail this week… Halfway through her opening set, Atkins made a comment about her drummer and other missing members of her band being absent due to a two week prison sentence? To be honest we’re still not sure if it was true or not. One thing IS for sure, though – her opening act for the Wood Brothers was spectacular, felons present or not.
Atkins stole our hearts last night, or maybe just mine? Time will tell, but her passionate words are all heart-felt and the stories behind them can only be imagined from the haunting lines and choruses that decorated her set-list. She came out with an acoustic guitar, joined by a man named “Steve” that was a master of the electric guitar – this must be the one band member that evaded the cell, or so I figured. The entire opening act of hers was wonderful as she interacted with the crowd, reminding us of a very strict “no yawning” policy and even asking us to slow dance for a couple of songs. One man in the front row next to me was a huge fan, at one point yelling during a moment of silence “I follow you on Twitter” which then lead to us hearing how little Atkins uses the mobile App. She established a genuine sense of connection and intimacy with the crowd in a way that I’ve never seen so casually done. The opening act wrapped up with her asking us to sing along to a song her father wrote titled “A Little Crazy.” It was beautiful.
The Wood Brothers came out in a rocking fashion, and with less of an emphasis on Folk than I was expecting – but it was nothing short of a pleasant surprise as they really seemed to know how to jam out, and how to jam out hard. Bassist Chris Wood had happy feet the whole night, wearing his iconic white converse, juking and tapping around stage all the while carrying an upright bass; to top off his dance moves, he wore a harmonica similar to what we see Billy Joel rocking – head strap and all. The rest of the stage was a sight to see as well, though, as multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix did everything from playing drums, to playing the keyboard, rocking the harmonica, and tapping and clapping on some weird hybrid guitar that seemed to make every noise possible besides that of a guitar – it was wild to see him hop around stage with so many hats on. Oliver Wood stole the show though, with his killer vocals as well as majestic long hair and rock-star esque guitar solos and jams. It was something I never saw coming.
Coming into this show, I imagined the Wood Brothers to be a casual acoustic band with more “chill” vibes than anything else, but last night they slapped me silly and showed just how bad-a** they really are. Every song had an opportunity to turn into a jam-session that crossed the lines of blues and rock and roll. The crowd absolutely loved it. Their ability to change forms became evident throughout the show though, as about halfway through the electric vibes were abandoned for a few songs as the crew came together to circle around a single mic. I thought to myself, “ah, the band I thought I was seeing came to stage, if at least for a moment.” With an acoustic guitar, upright bass, and whatever the heck Jano Rix carries around, the fireside sound of Wood Brothers came quietly back to First Avenue. What made this moment even more enjoyable was a demand for silence in the audience. Before beginning the last portion of the set, Oliver Wood playfully asked the crowd to hush, and I kid you not, like a pack of school children, we all looked around hushing and shushing each other just to hear the old school, classic Wood Brothers sound.
A man next to me tapped me on the shoulder about halfway through the show – he had been drinking and dancing alone for most of the set before we managed to break into conversation a few times between songs and so on. I came to learn how he just moved here after facing a divorce, said he needed to change things up and try a new scene out. So when I asked him how he felt about this different-than-expected vibe than we were used to, he said that it was actually exactly what he needed. Change is neither good nor bad, and while we might have mixed reactions to find things that were once familiar in a new form – maybe we just have to consider that the change might be exactly what someone else needs in their life.
So the night carried on pretty rapidly from there in a blur. The jams came back, Chris kept dancing, and the crowd didn’t have a single complaint as we headed back out into the cold tundra of Minneapolis in November. I really hope these guys come back soon, alongside Nicole Atkins, and if they do – I hope you join us.