Woods, Real Estate & Netherfriends

The New York band known as Woods was back in Chicago last night (Monday) for another fine jam session. After playing last year at the Empty Bottle, Woods and opening act Real Estate nearly filled a bigger venue this time, Lincoln Hall.

As in past Woods performances I’ve seen, vocalist/guitarist Jeremy Earl sang in a creaky falsetto reminiscent of Neil Young or maybe Canned Heat, while letting loose some wonderfully shambling electric guitar solos. Meanwhile, G. Lucas Crane is kneeling as he plays old cassette tapes, twiddling knobs, doing who knows what with the sounds coming out of the tapes, and singing into what looks like a set of headphones. When Woods stretched out its tunes, it rocked in a way that felt spontaneous and unpracticed. Despite sustained applause at the end of the concert, Woods did not come out for an encore.

The middle band on Monday’s bill, Real Estate, has been getting some buzz with its recent self-titled debut. The music’s very unassuming: nicely constructed little guitar pop songs, with just a touch of 1960s chamber pop or psychedelia. It all came across well in concert, although the laid-back Real Estate guys could stand to show a little more energy and enthusiasm.

Chicago trio Netherfriends started out the evening, playing songs from its debut EP. At times, Netherfriends sounded like White Rabbits (when keyboards were the dominant instrument), but more often the band went for an Animal Collective sort of vibe, with heavy rhythms and overlapping musical motifs. If anything, the percussion was a bit too aggressive in this live performance, but this band has some potential.

Photos of Woods, Real Estate and Netherfriends.

Last night of Wire Fest

I feel like I slacked off a bit last week when I missed most of the Wire Festival, a.k.a., “Adventures in Modern Music,” an annual showcase of some of the strangest music around, which the British magazine Wire curates and the Empty Bottle hosts. I’m sure I missed a lot of provocative music during the first four nights of the festival. I did catch the final night on Sunday (Sept. 13). The club seemed less than half full, but it was an excellent night of the sort of challenging music that Wire Fest is known for.

First up was Woods, a really cool band from New York with one of this year’s noteworthy records, Songs of Shame, whom I saw at SXSW. The core of this band’s songs are catchy rock tunes sung in a high falsetto, which remind me a bit of Canned Heat or Neil Young or something from that early ’70s era — but twisted through an experimental, improvisational, psychedelic vibe. Woods also played some extended instrumental jams, building their sound around drones and tape loops. Actual cassette tapes are part of the Woods’ sonic arsenal. Cool stuff.

The next band was the Subarachnoid Space. Never heard of ’em. They put on a pretty impressive set of heavy instrumental rock — heavy metal and art rock without any singing. The music was loud, but it was also fairly diverse within the limits of heavy instrumental rock. The third act of the night, Zola Jesus, was Chicago singer/composer Nika Danilova and two keyboardists, playing chilly techno pop, but with slightly stranger vocal melodies than the usual techno pop.

The headliners were Phantom Orchard, a collaboration between two highly respected experimental musicians, drummer Ikue Mori (who was working a laptop instead of drumming at this concert) and harpist Zeena Parkins. Their music included quiet, delicate tapestries of harp notes dancing over bubbly electronic textures. But Phantom Orchard also cranked up the volume and discordance for some sharp, piercing compositions as well.

Photos from Wire Fest.