The Wood Brothers are native to the foothills of the Rockies, and their sound was perfectly nestled among the mountains at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival last summer. But even at sea level, their show at 9:30 Club on a snowy Thursday night lifted an attentive audience’s spirits to 8,000 feet.
The show opened with a cover of Big Boss Man, a Jimmy Reed blues track from 1960, before jumping into a crowd-pleasing sing-along to the anthemic “Luckiest Man,” from their 2006 debut album, Ways Not to Lose.The thrumming and bouncy “This Is It” helped the crowd forget their worries and get to dancing, with Oliver singing, “Why do I try to change the world, when all I need is some love?” The first of back-to-back 9:30 Club shows were stitched together with several jam sessions that culminated in Chris setting down his bass and dancing a full orbit around the edge of the stage.
Late into the evening, Jano came out from behind the drum kit with his “shuitar”—a “very crappy guitar” that he transformed into a percussion instrument—to huddle around one very old microphone with the rest of the band. Chris introduced “the big mic” by describing the tension between nostalgia and the recognition that “the past was really weird,” and laws that made life better for a lot of folks didn’t exist at a time that we might look back fondly on now. The younger Wood brother admitted that things are pretty weird now too, acknowledging that Washingtonians know the importance of protest and voting, but, on this particular Thursday night, he suggested that the best thing we could do to make life a little better was to sing and dance. And then the volume cranked up again to end the night with a cover of The Band’s “Ophelia” and “Postcards From Hell,” which Oliver dedicated to furloughed federal workers and “anyone workin’ for free or workin’ for cheap.”
Priscilla Renea opened the show with an intriguing mix of country and pop, but far from pop country. After a decade-long career that started with a major label contract followed by disappointment but then a stellar songwriting career, she released an independent album Coloured in 2018 that is more faithful to her Florida roots and Nashville soul than any of her work before. The album opener “Family Tree” started her set followed by “Heavenly” a song she wrote for her dearly departed and dined-upon pet hog. A medley of hits from her songwriting career including Rihanna’s “California King Bed,” Kesha and Pitbull’s “Timber,” and Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It”was an unexpected and welcome way to get the party started.