Championed by indie rock blogs and jam band enthusiasts alike, Woods' live union of bare bones folk and lush psychedelic sprawl was a spectacle I'd been waiting to witness firsthand since falling for their latest album At Echo Lake earlier this year. And though their hourish set Wednesday night skillfully blended the aforementioned styles, in practice Woods failed to live up to my admittedly high expectations. Similar to their tightly crafted Echo Lake release, Woods' set left me longing for more. But where Echo Lake's brief perfection left me wanting more due to every perfectly placed note I'd just heard, the encore-less live set left me expecting more than I was given.
Woods' music itself was solid, opening with some laid back improv that meandered its way into "Blood Dries Darker," the lead track from Echo Lake. The early going showcased Jeremy Earl's captivating, effect muddled voice while G. Lucas Crane sat onstage, adding tape effects and singing equally-tampered-with harmonizing vocals through what looked like a pair of headphones. Kevin Morby and Jarvis Taveniere skillfully rounded out the quartet, swapping drums, bass and a six string when the situation called for it. The group spent the bulk of their set taking random samplings from their back catalog and doubling or even tripling them in length through waves of jamming. At its best, this led to a few moments where Woods gradually built a jam toward the harmonic payoff of Earl's catchy choruses. Other times the improv moved a bit slowly for my taste. The jams never lacked substance, but occasionally I regretted my personal lack of the substances that caused others in the crowd bust rave dance moves (briefly involving the macarena), or lovingly stroke a painting on the gallery walls.
Woods' strongest moment of the night came on "I Was Gone," when Earl put his peace sticker adorned acoustic guitar aside and thrashed on his black electric. Packed with surprisingly aggressive exploratory jams and solos, "Gone" showcased Woods at their best, melding crisp studio pop and live improv with ease. As I was listening, "Gone" felt like a huge turning point for the show, and in a way I suppose it was. I had anticipated that "Gone" would set the tone for the rest of the night, but instead of turning the show from mellow to intense, it turned the show from happening to over. As "Gone" ended, Woods quickly left the stage, the lights went up, and the crowd funneled out.
Though an hour with Woods was an hour well spent, it wasn't nearly enough to satiate my hunger for the masterful moments I know they're capable of. Time being relative, I won't blame it fully for Woods' less than incredible set. On Echo Lake, Woods proved that a powerful album can feel full in less than a half hour, yet given twice the time live, the group covered less ground. Woods' jams were entertaining, but they (obviously) lacked the discipline found on Echo Lake. The show's pacing, coupled with a deceiving lack of set ending cues like crowd banter or an encore, made Woods' set feel like the first hour of a two and a half hour jam fest. Though Woods thrives at mixing the strengths of indie folk and jam music, combining jam's casual pace with indie's no encore, no crowd dialogue brevity doesn't work as well.