Woods - Music Hall of Williamsburg - 11/3/2012
In "Is It Honest?," the fourth track of the most recent record from Woods, Bend Beyond, lead singer Jeremy Earl uses his haunting falsetto to ask an aggressive, straightforward question about things in our lives -- relationships, friendships, opinions, etc. -- that might seem healthy and positive on the surface: "As nice as this is, is it honest?" These dark lyrics float over a charmingly whistle-friendly melody driven by jangling guitars and vivacious drums, and through this juxtaposition, the song creates a disorienting listening experience. You want to feel good. You want to sing-a-long. You want to be happy. But when pausing to think about the lyrics' underlying themes of emptiness and frustration, that joy fizzles out, and the song's brightness reveals itself as gloom. This is Woods' signature sound, and on Saturday night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the band returned to Brooklyn and put this weirdness on display in pristine form.
It's taken some time for Woods to figure themselves out. Bend Beyond is the group's seventh album in six years, which is a bigger discography than most bands can ever dream of -- let alone in their first half decade of existence. But what's even more admirable than the output is the growth in sound. Since 2009's Songs of Shame, Woods have produced cleaned up, sun-dripped LPs like 2010's At Echo Lake and last year's aptly named Sun & Shade. Their earlier work, though, went in a stranger, more chaotic and experimental direction. They'd let guitars fuzz and reverb at painfully loud levels. Being "in tune" wasn't of much concern to Earl (and arguably still isn't). And, at least in "Holier Than No One" from 2007's How to Survive + In The Woods, they even sampled cat meows. Yep. Cat meows.
Through all of this self-discovery, though, Woods have found their footing. On the stage at Music Hall, the boys beamed with confidence. Earl's falsetto is so odd, so potentially off-putting that, even if his sometimes missed notes are cringeworthy, the earnestness in which he sings still grips. Combine that with his bandmates: bassist/harmonica player Kevin Morby and multi-instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere. While bouncing back and forth like a slinky, Morby acts like a live-action metronome, jumping to the microphone for harmonica solos, bobbing back for bass lines. Taveniere is more introspective, staring down as he strums, and quietly contributes back-up vocals. On tours, Aaron Neveu plays drums, popping off his own chipper beats, acting as a sturdy foundation.