Tonight at the House of Blues, they hope you'll Tweet less and listen more.
[Updated] If you'd like to get Chris Wood talking, bring up concert etiquette.
After hearing a description of a local singer's difficulties in quieting a rambunctious drunk, Wood says in a slight drawl, "Well, I'd just tell her to shut up. Really. "
Chris and Oliver Wood - The Wood Brothers - have been playing together since 2006, which hasn't gone unrecognized. NPR named their 2006 album Ways Not To Lose as one of the station's "Overlooked 11." But, as a whole, they're musicians' musicians who cut their teeth in the equally difficult worlds of gigging in Atlanta and training at the New England Convervatory of Music. Classically-trained Chris learned his craft under jazz greats Geri Allen and Dave Holland, then rose to success in the instrumental group Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW). Older brother Oliver struck out for Atlanta at a young age, where he played with Tinsley Ellis and other bluesman for over a decade.
"There's a feeling of coming full-circle, especially for me," says Wood. "I played in an instrumental group for years in MMW so [playing with] my brother goes back to when we were kids. It's that feeling of going back to those roots."
After their independent experiences as musicians, the Wood Brothers teamed to produce the music they'd always been attracted to.Their songs always get down to the roots, whether it's gospel, delta blues, or folk. They favor sparse, soulful blues and folk. Their first record, Ways Not to Lose, was the brothers at their most minimal. It was just a guitar, bass and Oliver's haunting voice - and it worked, producing heartfelt songs like "The Luckiest Man" and the thumping "Atlas." In the past six years they've made a few changes, such as adding funky drummer Jano Rix and remastered versions of their bare originals. The Wood Brothers' last release, the rocking live 2012 double-album Live, Vol 1: Sky High and Live, Vol. 2: Nail and Tooth, has a thundering life to it, whether you're listening to the Professor-Longhaired inspired groove of "One More Day" or the funky cover of Allen Toussaint's "Get Out of My Life Woman."
"Even though we love our Bob Dylan and our folkies, there's something about that minimalist style that we're attracted to," Wood says. The brothers' father used to play with Joan Baez back when he attended Harvard and had his own college radio show. "The music that came out of gospel traditional music- blues, delta blues- it's got a certain feeling that we're attracted to. It's hard to know what it is. At its best, it's kind of a poetry that is married to its music."
The Wood Brothers are drawn to music that speaks to what it means to be a musician, and nowhere is this more apparent than in "Postcards from Hell." Oliver Wood wrote the song about Donnie McCormick, a representative Everyman of the bluesman who sit in bar corners, singing their souls out with their fingers making beautiful sounds on cheap guitars, yet remaining unheard by the crowds in front of them.
"It's about the unsung heroes and artists that are doing incredible things but nobody's paying attention," Chris Wood says. "But they're doing it anyways because they've got to do it. They have to play because they love it and they have a need for it, the need to express yourself. Donnie McCormick is just one of those guys who didn't have anything to eat, and certainly didn't have a lot of money, and sometimes people weren't really paying attention. Except for the people who got it, like my brother. He saw McCormick at a place with a bunch of TVs, a sports bar, and he saw that he was doing incredible things, inspiring things. But some people aren't tuned in. They're too busy watching the game or the news. They miss out on all of it, and that's what it's about. "
Concert étiquette strikes a nerve for the bassist. He laments the downfall of audience engagement in the age of Facebook posts and Tweets.
"Not to sound like an old geezer, but I think [concert etiquette] got lost with the younger generation. I think part of it has to do with the social media gadgets and everyone's texting and posting and talking on their cell phones. It's like people forgot how to be receptive."
Tonight, New Orleanians have the opportunity to show the Wood Brothers that we've never forgotten how to appreciate good music. They play at the House of Blues (225 Decatur St.) at 8 p.m. tonight.
Updated December 4, 5:11 p.m.
The Wood Brothers' 2006 album, Ways Not to Lose, was on NPR's Overlooked 11 list, not 2008's album, Loaded. The text has been changed to reflect this correction.