The Wood Brothers onstage at the Cistern Yard during the First Citizens Bank Front Row series at Spoleto Festival USA

Grade: A

It’s a rare occasion for me to immediately fall in love with a band with no prior knowledge of their material. For most of the artists I listen to, I usually know their music going in to a live performance, whether it be through perusing streaming services or the good old-fashioned YouTube video.

This was not the case for The Wood Brothers, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a better first impression with another band.

The Wood Brothers’ performance at Cistern Yard was probably the most dynamic, entertaining and cathartic performance I’ve witnessed at Spoleto. Everything from the atmosphere of the venue to the Brothers themselves was flawless. Well, save a technical hiccup at the beginning of the show.

While humidity is an unavoidable fact of life in Charleston, the weather for the Wood Brothers’ performance was the most pleasant out of all the shows I have attended at Cistern Yard. It was quite a relief after my last experience at the venue, as my much anticipated viewing of the Cookers’ show came with the annoyance of muggy heat and bugs swarming the audience and the Cookers themselves.

The Wood Brothers’ show got off to an inauspicious start, as a technical glitch delayed the opening track for a good 10 minutes … That said, the band’s performance was such that a minor stage malfunction seems irrelevant.

As performers, The Wood Brothers captivated their audience with their impressive musicianship, relatable lyrics and mesmerizing stage antics. Guitarist and vocalist Oliver Wood showcased his mesmerizing guitar playing, both in his lush acoustic strumming and gritty electric blues slides. Jano Rix, the group’s most eclectic member, provided his talents with a variety of instruments, sometimes by playing two at the same time. 

Rix mainly served as a percussionist to Oliver and Chris Wood, manning the helm behind the drum kit for most of the show. But, for the band’s more stripped down songs, Rix sported a beat up looking nylon string guitar, known as the “shuitar.” This Frankenstein’s monster-of-an-instrument is made to serve as a percussive instrument rather than a melodic one. Rix also added a richer harmony to the Brothers’ sound by managing to play keyboards and drums at the same time. Oh, and he also plays the melodica, so there’s that too.

While all of the members of The Wood Brothers have something to offer in terms of stage presence, it was Chris Wood who had most of my attention the whole show. Taking the stage like a man possessed, Chris manhandled his upright, gyrating his hips like a bass-playing Elvis Presley. His technical fluidity on the upright bass is something to behold, all while his original and creative voice produced Theremin-like sounds that I didn’t think was possible. For Wood to be able to sing while playing the bass with such fluidity is remarkable in itself. Chris also added harmonica into the mix, proving Rix wasn’t the only multi-instrumentalist in the group.

Some definite highlights of the night came from Oliver Wood’s banter with the crowd between songs. Even after working through demanding songs like “The Muse,” “Keep Me Around” and “Shoofly Pie,” Wood had the energy to converse and joke around with the audience, thanking them for “cutting loose on a Wednesday.” The crowd politely replied that it was in fact Tuesday, to which Wood replied with an exasperated “…whatever.”

The band played a good mix of songs from their earlier works while introducing songs from its latest album, Kingdom in My Mind. The album was released in January 2020, and the Brothers expressed gratitude for finally being able to play songs from the album live. 

The Wood Brothers ended their show with an encore performance of one of their more popular numbers, “Luckiest Man.” After sitting through most of the show, the Cistern Yard crowd bolted to the front of the stage to sing along with the band.

Running is useless and fighting is foolish
You’re not gonna win but still you’re the luckiest man you’re up against

“Now this feels like Charleston,” Oliver Wood said.

Patrick Henkels is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications program at Syracuse University.

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