MUSIC It can be tough to see the woods for the trees, to eyeball the big picture ideas amid the seductive specifics of a lush, ancient green aroma of a redwood forest after a rain, or the honeyed, sun-washed lethargy that comes with a warm summer day. But pin down one crucial branch of Brooklyn band Woods with an archetypal Barbara Walters query — "If Woods could be any tree, what tree would it be?" — and you just might get, "Omigod, I'm drawing a blank."
Jarvis Taveniere, once of Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice and now heading up Woods along with founder Jeremy Earl, pauses and ponders the arboreal possibilities on a beautiful day in upstate New York. He has a gin and tonic in one hand and a Pink Floyd rock bio in the other. He could be swimming, learning to dive, and hurting his shoulder instead on this mellow day, just before Woods uproots and sets out on tour.
"I was going to say redwood. I thought that sounded cheesy, but I'm going to say it anyway," he decides. "There's history there — it's extremely old and huge. And I'd like to hear what they have to say: 'Tree, tell me about Henry Miller — what was he like?'"
Taveniere will have his chance to speak to the trees when Woods gets to SF and Big Sur. The latter's Henry Miller Memorial Library is the site of the Woodsist Festival, nominally a showcase for Earl's label, Woodsist, but really, as Taveniere puts it, "just any excuse to get up there" and play with friends like SF's the Fresh and Onlys. "You don't have to sit in the sun and buy $5 bottles of water," he quips.
Woods take to California's leafy retreats like seedlings to the herbaceous floor of old-growth forest, making a ritual of roaming beneath the bowers of Muir Woods. "We have to go to Muir Woods every tour," says Taveniere, who grew up in upstate New York along with Earl and spent his youth "hiding out" in the woods building forts and fashioning his own little world. "It's just the tranquil feeling you get over there, especially living in New York and being on tour and some of us living in city. We always leave in a such nice peaceful state, resetting the mind a little."
That kick-back feeling, mixed with the unexpected sensation of having your mind suddenly kick-started, suffuses Woods music, from the unpredictable musical twists and unlikely power of the band's live performances to the most recent Woods album, At Echo Lake (Woodsist), a sunnily insinuating document of summer 2009, named for the humble New Jersey vacation spot near Earl's hometown. It shimmers with surf 'n' turf rumble ("From the Horn"), Badfinger-esque melancholy ("Mornin' Time"), and nether-worldly noise and triangle plinks ("Pick Up") — sometimes in the very same song. Who would think lines like "Numbers make no difference unless you shine like you should/And the night hangs it back in place" could touch the heart strings like they do? Woods' deep sweetness and natural mystery runs throughout like a fresh, cool stream.
At Echo Lake is the fruit of songwriting stints in Brooklyn — and the lure of barbecue, which enticed friends like the Magik Markers' Pete Nolan to contribute drums to "Get Back" and Matt Valentine to "lay down some sweet santar" (a modified banjo-sitar) on "Time Fading." "You trick them to come up for barbecue," Taveniere jests. "Everyone's loose, having a good time — it's the perfect opportunity to create."
With Kurt Vile and the Art Museums
Fri/11, 8 p.m., $16
333 11th St., SF
WOODSIST FEST BIG SUR