Woods @ Variety Playhouse 09/26/12

Save for maybe Ty Segall and his band, Woods – the Brooklyn-based psych-folk outfit that opened for The Walkmen this past Wednesday at the Variety Playhouse – may very well be the hardest working group of music makers in indie rock. Since 2006, the band has released an average of one album per year, and with nary a bad one in the bunch, the only thing more surprising than its productivity may be its consistency.

Drawing equal influence from the sunshine pop of The Beach Boys and the sonic improvisations of The Grateful Dead, and filtering them through an appreciation of lo-fi folk and garage psychedelia, Woods sounds a bit like The Shins’ weirder, more reclusive younger brothers (or, perhaps, Devendra Barnhart’s more straight-edged cousins). And although this year’s Bend Beyond is not markedly different from 2006’s How To Survive In + Into the Woods in terms of its musical palette, it is the most succinct, polished, intentional, and in many ways fulfilling, version of Wood’s now-signature sound that we’ve heard yet. And anyone who managed to arrive early for The Walkmen were treated to a band that not only can write and record a catchy song, but that can inject it with vitality and excitement in a live setting.

Woods started its set off strong on Wednesday night with “Pushing Onlys” and “Suffering Season” – from 2011’s Sun and Shade and 2010’s At Echo Lake, respectively – before launching into a stretch of its newer material. And although the band may have reigned in, or all but banished the jammier side of its personality from Bend Beyond, Woods proved that it still hasn’t lost its love for live experimentation. Even relatively brief songs like “Bend Beyond” and “Blood Dries Darker” – both of which clock in at a respectable four and a half minutes in the studio – were transformed into sprawling psychedelic explorations that spanned well past the ten minutes mark. Tellingly, though, the most compelling moments of the band’s set were when it kept things concise. New songs like “Is It Honest?” and the indelible “Cali in a Cup” deviated little from their studio counterparts, allowing the band to showcase just how strong its songwriting and craftsmanship has become.

Spending its career developing and honing a particular sound has in many ways worked well for Woods – Bend Beyond has garnered the band some of its most glowing reviews yet. One thing that becomes obvious about the band’s catalog when it is transitioned from the studio into a live setting, though, is that, for all its breezy, catchy, compelling melodies, it is also wholly similar. Woods has proved, perhaps undeniably so, that they are a talented group of young musicians, and they do deserve more credit and attention than they are often given. But for as much as the band’s albums have demonstrated an impressive consistency in quality, so have they had a consistency in sound. Bend Beyond is an overall solid studio album that translates well live; it also seems like a very safe, comfortable album. For as much talent and promise as the band has displayed thus far, I’d love to see what would happen if they decided to really stretch their legs.

Setlist

  • Pushing Onlys (Sun and Shade)
  • Suffering Season (At Echo Lake)
  • Cali in a Cup (Bend Beyond)
  • Bend Beyond (Bend Beyond)
  • Size Meets the Sound (Bend Beyond)
  • Is It Honest? (Bend Beyond)
  • Rain On (Songs of Shame)
  • Find Them Empty (Bend Beyond)
  • Blood Dries Darker (At Echo Lake)

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