It’s been just over a decade since Woods released their first album, How to Survive In/In the Woods, and in that time the band has gone from home recorded tape releases to becoming one of the most preeminent bands in the admittedly niche psych folk genre today. The ever-prolific group released their ninth album, City Sun Eater in the River of Light, earlier this year on their own label, Woodsist Records, and the album shakes up their sound a bit, adding horns and along with them, touches of jazz and funk, and forgoing the long instrumental jams for which the band has become known. Last week, the band brought this new album to DC at the Rock and Roll Hotel.
Though the band has an extensive catalog to draw on at this point, this set was all about the new album, with the majority of the tracks drawn from it. The release has been out for a month now, though, and several songs were released through streaming platforms prior, so most of the fans present had gotten plenty of opportunity to familiarize themselves with the new material. Seeing the songs performed live helped to contextualize them a bit – while the new sound may have been a bit of a surprise on first listen to the album, heard as part of the live set they fit in as well as anything the band has done previously. It helped, likely, that the band didn’t shy away from drawing them out – an extended instrumental freak out in lead single “Sun City Creeps” in particular pulled out all of the stops and made the song feel much more like classic Woods while still maintaining its new character.
When the band did break away from the new album, it was primarily for tracks from their previous album, 2014’s With Light and With Love. The title track to that album remains a centerpiece of the band’s live set, and the set also featured “Leaves Like Grass” and “Shepherd.” The band looked further backwards with only two songs in the main set, “Suffering Season” from 2010’s At Echo Lake, and “Cali in a Cup” from 2012’s Bend Beyond.
Woods mainstays – the falsetto of singer Jeremy Earl and the angular guitar solos of Jarvis Taveniere – were there in abundance, of course. Aaron Neveu’s drumming seems to have only gotten stronger. Bassist Chuck Van Dyck, who took over for long-standing member Kevin Morby when he left the band in 2013, seems much more confident in his role now than he had on the touring for the band’s previous album. The show also introduced new member Kyle Forester, who in addition to taking over John Andrews’ role on keyboards, added his own saxophone playing to fill out those parts from the album. Despite the ever-evolving line-up, Woods continues to be a strong and cohesive group, and seeing them live remains the best way to experience them.
The show was opened by London psych-pop duo Ultimate Painting, touring for their second album, Green Lanes. Jack Cooper and James Hoare were joined once again for this tour on bass by AJ Cozzi (of Chicago post-punk band Radar Eyes), and by Trouble In Mind label head Bill Roe on Drums. Cooper also came out to join Woods on the final song of their encore, a cover of Graham Nash’s “Military Madness,” which the group had originally recorded on their 2009 album Songs of Shame.