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Live Review: Woods and Parquet Courts at Ottobar

July 26, 2013
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Parquet+Courts“As nice as this is,” sings Woods frontman Jeremy Earl, “is it honest?” It’s not the kind of question you’re used to hearing at the Ottobar, where the band played last night with tourmates Parquet Court (pictured), and which, as a rule, does not advertise itself as a forum for earnest inquiries into the nature of truth and sincerity. But Woods don’t act like most of the bands that pass through Ottobar.

In fact, Woods seems to be of another time altogether, and, actually, that works really well for them. The band often gets thrown into the ever-popular “folk rock” category, but unlike most bands in that box, the group has a sound comparable to early folk rock like The Byrds and even Village Green-era Kinks. When the bearded Earl begins singing rich melodies in his (almost shockingly) high, soulful voice, (as he did during the set’s opener, “Pushing Onlys”) you can hear the kind of shaky timbre that defined doo-wop groups of the early 1960s.

At the same time, Woods defies categorization in any one specific time, place or genre. Their studio recordings, the latest of which, Bend Beyond, features most of the tracks performed here last week, crystallize these early folk rock influences into a really solid album, but what their Ottobar show proved is that Woods is a living, breathing band, one that defines itself by its intense exploration of its own musical ability. In the middle of “Bend Beyond,” the kind of ominous rocker that would not be out of place in Neil Young’s catalog, the band allowed itself a temporal space to experiment with the instrumental style and structure of the song, to reach out beyond the studio recording’s presentation, before reining it in to repeat the chorus once more. Earl, who for the most of the set strummed steadily on an acoustic guitar, displayed a technical mastery that rivaled lead guitarist Jarvis Taveniere. By all accounts, Woods seems restless whenever they’re placed within a certain boundary, even one they’ve previously set for themselves.

At some points, Woods even played louder than Parquet Courts. And that’s saying something. Parquet Courts came to national attention earlier this year with the release of Light Up Gold, an album that is by turns slow, lethargic “stoner” rock (e.g. “She’s Rolling”) and upbeat, high-paced bona fide punk (e.g. “Borrowed Time”). Like Woods, Parquet Courts excels on the stage, and like many great punk acts, their studio recordings fail to capture the kind of energy that defines them. Parquet Courts appear to be most themselves when they are in front of a crowd, when their music can completely absorb the space it’s given. These songs, in isolation, are very clean, the drumming very precise, guitar riffs polished. In the enclosed Ottobar, however, the noise becomes an instrument of its own, so much so that when the band would come to a sudden stop, the silence was truly shocking.

Born out of “a subconscious return to America’s scandalous origin,” the band’s cleverly ironic and sometimes nonsensical lyrical content (“Stoned and Starving” has frontman and guitarist Andrew Savage debating whether to eat “Swedish Fish, roasted peanuts, or licorice”) contrasts with the earnestness of Woods’, but the effect is weirdly similar. The set closed with both bands on stage performing a chaotic cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” A compromise between scandalous origins and an early folk rock sound, maybe.

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