Even though the lo-fi folk "family" Woods snuck onto my 2009 list at #19, I wasn't going to go too far outta of my way to see them until I watched their video for "To Clean." The stop-motion thing is rad, funny and weird, and what the hell is that guy in the band fooling with on the floor? I would find out on Tuesday night, seeing them at hot Bloomington venue The Bishop with fellow Woodsist Records band Real Estate.
But first up were Bloomingtonians Osteoferocious (awesome name), a relatively new group and this would be my first time seeing them. So I did a little pre-show research. While the duo of a singing drummer w/ guitarist is not exactly a gimmick anymore, these guys are totally No Age in more ways than one, with samples (or guitar loops maybe) raging as the two rock out, with drummer Erik Fox half-yelling, half-singing in a very Dean Spunt kinda way, though Fox has better pitch. With only a 12-minute EP to their name, I wasn't exactly sure what they would play. Answer: not much. I got there a few minutes late and the venue was silent. “What’s goin’ on? Did I miss Osteoferocious?” I asked the door guy, thinking it was quite possible. He said he thought they were still playing and I entered the room to find them asking to borrow a guitar. ”I just can’t seem to get this to sound good,” guitarist Aaron Bragg sighed. I asked around and apparently they broke a string--not unheard of, for sure--but it seemed to derail the whole set. They started up again a few minutes later and played two very short songs and were done. So I don’t have much to go on here. EP = good, stage show = needs work. Go listen here.
Next up was Real Estate; no, not the Sunny Day variety. I asked to get on the list to review this show based strictly on Woods, but their PR dude got me the Real Estate album a couple months back and I dig it. It’s chock-full of breezy, reverb-y, chill tunes. The New Jersey-based act released a new EP earlier this month, and I listened once on Lala to discover it’s more of the same. Their stuff is enjoyable but tends to become background music so I wasn't sure how it would play out live.
”Can we get a healthy amount of reverb on all the mics?” bassist Alex Bleeker asked, foreshadowing for anyone not already familiar with the group, as the other members were tuning. The tuning turned into a little jam, perhaps improvised. First time I've heard applause after a sound check. The band started into the first "real" song and afterwards said it was a new one and asked the audience for suggestions for the title--hilarity ensued. I found out afterward that the band did not write out a set list, and not knowing the album super well I will not be able to give a song-by-song list. Early on they played album standout “Beach Comber,” which seems to shuffle along a cloud. They played the great but slower “Atlantic City” at some point too, but also played the album’s weakest tune, “Suburban Beverage,” an overly long and lyrically weak tune. Just as the set was beginning to sound a bit same-y, they played another new one that they called “Art Vandelay”--pretty awesome title. It was faster and featured guitarist Mathew Mondanile singing as opposed to main vocalist/guitarist Martin Courtney. They played a couple tracks off the new EP and closed with their full-length’s best track, the up-tempo “Fake Blues” with its catchy lead lines.
Then Brooklyn's Woods assembled their mess of chords and weird stuff to begin their set. Singer Jeremy Earl croons in what’s often referred to as a "Neil Young falsetto" and I suppose that will do for a primer for you all. His melodies are often raw and not completely in tune on record, so I would expect no less here. Doesn't make 'em any less catchy, mind you. G. Lucas Crane, however, was the one I had my eyes on as the band set up. He was kneeling down on the floor with a rig that was a DJ's turntable mixer with crossfaders and such, but instead of two turntables it was two portable cassette players. He also had a few guitar effects pedals and a pair of headphones. Turns out the headphones were reversed into microphones (don't ask me, but I know it's possible) and he wore the headphones "front-to-back" on his head with one of the ear parts over his mouth, which he would sing/scream into frequently, which would then feed through the pedals and come out all crazy-like and delayed all to hell. With the tapes, he was swapping cassettes out with the piles of 'em lying on the floor frequently, and would crossfade, mess with the levels, and then stick his fingers on the exposed motors (the lids that usually protect the tape while playing were taken off) and he would mess with the tape speed. This was all fascinating to me; he was like some sort of mad scientist. On Songs of Shame he only appears on three tracks and is barely noticeable. Here he played a huge role on every song, especially the long jams.
As for the set, they also did not write it down. I actually asked Crane ahead of time and he said "I don't even know what's gonna happen." Crazy cats! I do know they skipped a couple of my favorites from Songs, like the stripped-down folk tune “The Number” and bouncy Graham Nash cover “Military Madness.” They did play album opener “To Clean” though Earl passed on the spastic half-in-key, half-out guitar solo. Luckily, he gave us some of those later on in the set. The more downbeat and dour “Rain On” was another crowd favorite. I'm sure they played some from their first two albums which I'm not too familiar with, but a lot of the other tunes just seemed like jams, though I was thoroughly captivated by the weirdness of the group. At one point, drummer/guitarist Jarvis Taveniere, while drumming, had a two-stringed bass lying across the floor tom and was hitting the strings with his stick, producing a low humming drone.
The crowd demanded an encore and after a couple more of their own songs, they pulled Real Estate back on stage to cover Blind Melon's “No Rain” with practically all eight guys on different instruments from their usual thing. They extended the song quite past its mid-'90s radio-hit length, complete with a freak-out trumpet solo by Crane. Very unexpected, but a fun ending to a bizarre show.