I first experienced it when I was young and they reopened this Durham landmark. I got to be a part of the activities and it was an enchanting experience that I'll never forget. Twenty-five years later, I got to re-visit the wonder of my first brush with this storied hall. All thanks to The Wood Brothers and the voodoo that they do so well.
When you enter the Theatre, you're greeted with an abundance of architectural details. Unlike the concrete convention centers we're shuffled through so often now, this locale has carpeted stairs leading in all directions, small bars around each corner, comfy tables and chairs, and the kindest volunteer staff to guide you through your night. We arrive in our balcony seats just in time to see the opening act, The T Sisters, kick off the show. The T Sisters offer a warm, melodic intro to the evening. The crowd warms up and it's the start to a great night. After a break, The Wood Brothers take the stage. And then, just like the interesting construction of the Carolina Theatre, you don't know what to expect. They lead us through a night of enchanting songs, trick percussion skills, and some rubber leg dance moves that are showmanship at its highest form.
Just when you think that thirty years of concerts has shown you everything there is to see, Chris Wood and Jano Rix begin "Keep Me Around". Chris is employing his stand-up bass as masterfully as a wizard and his wand. Meanwhile, Jano no longer needs his drum set (or his keyboard, or his melodica, or most of the bevy of instruments he plays) to perform for this piece. He's knocking on an acoustic guitar in a rhythm that seems the only way to perform this song as it's meant to be performed. His simple percussion piece blows me away more than all the epic drum solos I've seen in this last year. And that's a lot of drum solos.
What's interesting about Chris Wood isn't just his superhuman skills on the bass, but his moves! If you haven't seen Chris and his legs of rubber boogie across the stage, both with and without his instrument, then you haven't truly experienced The Wood Brothers yet.
The fairy tale continues and "The Touch of Your Hand" has the charmed ability to make even the most die-hard good ole boys on our row hug their dates wistfully. This is perhaps the sweetest magic of the whole night.
The tender beginning of "Postcards from Hell" bounces gorgeously off the ceiling of the Theatre, colored so subtly by the understated lights of the show. In true Wood Brothers style, the song turns on a dime and catches you off-guard with the building crescendo of the chorus. I raise my arms to the ceiling, trying to gather in all the beauty and magic swirling around the balcony.
As if they haven't impressed us with their bag of tricks enough, the lights go down to one amber light underlighting the band, and they huddle around a vintage microphone. Oliver Wood informs us that this is the "O, Wood Brother, Where Art Thou?" portion of the evening and that the microphone is a time machine. He says we're all about to be taken back to a time before cell phones and modern craziness. Sign me up. The Brothers bring out The T Sisters and we're treated to the most eerily beautiful version of "Sing About It" that you can imagine. The Sisters really do remind you of the Sirens in the "O, Brother" movie, just as Oliver had predicted.
We finally get the song that all the ladies have been waiting for, "The Luckiest Man". It never fails to fairly hypnotize the female half of the crowd. And tonight is no exception.
What could possibly raise us out of our stupor after that? Only another selection from their recent "Live at the Barn" recording at Levon Helm's homestead. When the band busts into "Ophelia", my heart nearly implodes. I'd had "Ophelia", both Levon's version and the Grateful Dead song, on my mind earlier in the day and it was as if the band was performing their last trick just to show me exactly how powerful they really are. And it worked. I left the show in a complete trance. Wondering who this band is that I'd underappreciated until now and when I'd next get to see them pull a musical rabbit out of a hat.
- Erika Rasmussen
Photos by: Jerry Friend