For all that they’ve done to develop a fresh, eclectic, and altogether electrifying sound through their trademark mix of blues, funk, and pure, unbridled rock and roll, it’s clear that the Wood Brothers were tailor made to perform an exciting live set. Even for the most revered of bands, however, just because they seem fit for a live setting, or even if they put on the greatest live shows ever pieced together, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will produce an equally solid live recording. After all, throughout rock history alone, there’s been a fair mix of world-renowned and even critically acclaimed artists who’ve turned out stinkers, whether they’re just poorly mixed (The Beatles’ At the Hollywood Bowl), showcase an astoundingly lackluster performance (Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same), or are otherwise just plain bunk (Elvis Presley’s Having Fun with Elvis on Stage).
So, when the Wood Brothers get together at the barn of none other than the Band’s own late, great Levon Helm for a live record, most would be quick to claim it as a great live output and another slam dunk for the Atlantian-New Yorkian folk-rock trio. Is their Live at the Barn a resplendent showcase of both the Woods’ electric catalog and performance skills — let alone modern-day live performance capture — or does it fail to capture the excitement so easily evoked by such a prospect?
Luckily, for fans of the band new and old alike, the answer is that it lines up more along the lines of At Folsom Prison and Live at the Apollo than it does Live Peace in Toronto or Rainbow Concert (as far as legacy live performances for comparison go). Dismantling the often collaborative nature of their particular folk scene, the brothers Wood (Chris and Oliver) pair up with band staple Jano Rix. They then go forth and make an all-out funkified folk-rock jam of the occasion from the bottom to the top.
A rousing opening performance of “Mary Anna”, with its acoustic guitar basis and lively percussive center, is actually one of the more tame pieces of the Wood Brothers’ set here, if that is an indicator of anything. As far how the rest of their set goes — or the vast wealth of it, at least — it is drenched in a bluesy sentiment that ultimately culminates with an enthusiastic cover of the Band’s own “Ophelia” to top a night off at Helm’s barn as consummately as could ever be possible.
All in all, if you’re in the business of seeking out new and exciting live music releases, you could do far worse than Live at the Barn, but it would be quite the task for you to find far better.