It was March 12th, 2020 when I was sent home from work due to the spiraling pandemic. Offices weren’t shut down just yet; The virus was just on the rise, but we had an office policy that said any signs of symptoms meant remote work – damn sniffles got my shutdown started early. Losing my job a few months later wasn’t even a low point of the pandemic compared to losing the one thing that I eventually realized I truly lived for most days: Shows.
During the shutdowns I spent a lot of time doing “nothing,” but a lot of that nothing was something special as I revisited live performances of my favorite artists ad-nauseam; The Wood Brothers were one of those artists, so it was only a beautiful form of poetic justice that I’d come back to the scene with them as my first gig. But where was I?
It was all a blur; A surreal tunnel-vision experience as soon as I got out of my car this Wednesday night. A dark, chilly night in Minneapolis had me fighting the wind tunnels of downtown as I marched towards First Avenue. TCM and I caught the Brothers the last time they came around Minneapolis, but that was back in 2019 on their tour promoting the upcoming (at the time) 2020 album Kingdom in My Mind. Have they changed much since? We’ll dive into that later, but for now – I’ll say that (much like fine wine), nothing has changed that hasn’t made them better.
A few card-checks and metal detectors later, I found myself entering the dark, historic, royal jam-cave of First Avenue. As trained, the first thing I did was check my corners and exits; By that I mean I walked around looking for a chair for about 12 minutes. I eventually found a stool in a corner, debated how weird I’d look sitting by myself in a shadow, and sat down to catch the show from a curiously great angle upstairs. Taking the stage first was Sean McConnell.
McConnell, the musically-seeming-son-of-a-preacher-man, commanded the stage immediately with his guitar and Bob-Dylan-esque harmonica setup. Wearing a camo jacket and some kick-ass boots; Sean was dressed for war with any lingering doubts in the audience. With a single strum and grabbing of my attention, “Shaky Bridges” erupted from the stage – one of his pieces from the 2019 album Secondhand Smoke.
Sean’s voice is one of a kind, truly one of the best I’ve heard in my time, and not only can he hold a wonderful tune – his lyrics are borderline visionary; As I listened to him perform, I felt like I was being told a story through music. We followed Sean’s stories and memories for almost an hour, even getting a few laughs fit in-between songs as well. Sean told us and sang about his upbringing as a child in a family of four kids, having a spiritual and musical upbringing, and so much more. Get out of the way, Hozier – I think this is the guy who’s gonna take us to church.
The scene was set. Fog machines were rolling. Lights were ready. With a roaring of the crowd, The Wood Brothers broke onto the stage – literally – with their first piece being “Little Bit Broken.” The chorus rang through the venue; “Everybody is a little bit broken / It’s alright to be a little bit broken.” I was feeling the beat almost immediately, and as I looked around the crowd it seemed that everyone else was bought into the swagger of the band, as well. Heads were bobbing, hands were waving, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this – EVERYONE was dancing, even if it was just a toe-tap routine. Another piece from Kingdom in My Mind came on soon after and is also one of my personal favorites – “Alabaster.” This group’s sound was was blues, then soft-rock, and oh-so-very close enough at times to be just flat-out rock and roll. The band rotated between folk and jam instruments (acoustic to electric bass, drums to lighter percussion, and so on), and at times broke off the beaten path and did something revolutionary in my eyes; Jams not too long, but definitely still jams – something I’d like to call Micro-jams. With that, I am declaring that The Wood Brothers are THE Micro-Jam Band of 2021 because I think they deserve to win something else on top of winning the stage that night.
The Wood Brothers were a blast the last time we caught them in the Twin Cities, and while I was personally shocked to see this often unplugged group rocking out at the time, I’ve grown to love and appreciate how much they can genre-hop yet still keep their same voice, sound, and wood-solid core. With frontman Oliver Wood killing it on guitar and vocals, Bass-man Chris Wood dancing his feet off while slapping the bass, and “Shuitar” player Jano Rix (look it up, there’s no good way to describe this instrument of musical brilliance) – the gang blew our minds this Wednesday night at First Avenue and were truly the best way for me to get back into the concert scene of Minneapolis and St. Paul that we all know and love; If you were there, I can’t imagine you’d disagree.
Oh, wait, the headline.
Remember how I said everyone was dancing? Thank the gods they were. At one point in the evening, a couple was dancing in front of me as I was awkwardly standing and smiling by myself having a drink at the show; They were cute, and I’m single as ever so it was upsetting but adorable, I will admit. My attention went back to the show until, out of nowhere, a loud “THUD” hit the ground right in front of me. I look over and see the couple looking up at what I assume was where the beer fell from. The couple was in the middle of a dance move, and I’m making the argument that had the Wood Brothers not made everyone dance that much, there’s a chance that beer would have been bad news for someone that night. No headaches at First Avenue this time – at least not till the next morning!