For the past few years I've annointed a @neddyo "artist of the year" -- the band or musician who defined my year or impressed me the most or made the best music or just struck my fancy, usually after removing Phish from consideration since they'd probably be my choice every year if I was being honest.
2000's decade run-down
2008 = Apollo Sunshine
2009 = Portugal. The Man
2010 = Jim James
2011 = Medeski, Martin & Wood
2012 = Tame Impala/Kevin Parker
2013 = Joe Russo
This year was another tough decision. Lots of great music with few people standing out from a crowded field of excellence. My runner-up would have to be Steve Gunn who I saw three times in three different settings, each equally excellent not to mention he released a new album which will be near the top of my faves-of-2014 list.
But when it comes down to it, no band excited me both live and in the studio like Woods did in 2014. I only saw them twice, but these were easily two of the best shows I saw all year. They were events, with trippy visuals, excellent playing and sweet extended jams. The first at the Bowery Ballroom featured Drippy Eye Productions on the visuals and was an improv-filled extra-planetary adventure. My review of the show is here. Thankfully, NYCTaper recorded the show, so you can hear it here. As good as that night was, the second time I saw them was even better. This time, they played as part of the Joshua Light Show festival at NYU. Taking place in the middle of CMJ week in October and in the late slot, the room was little more than half full and discount tickets were available right up until showtime. Too bad for those that missed it.... with the superlative JLS setting the scene with their awe-inspiring visuals, Woods were as good as I've seen them, perfectly balancing their songsmanship with long, elegant, powerhouse jamming. The show opened with a lengthy improv and just went from there, easily one of my favorite shows of the year. This was the 2014 equivalent of seeing Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East.
Woods' 2014 album, With Light and With Love is a thing of folk-psych beauty, hitting the neddyo sweet spot with excellent tracks and inspired playing, with no weak links or moments to skip. The title track is a 9 minute masterpiece and "Move to the Left" is one of my favorite songs of the year. Of course, in the annual tradition, it is criminally missing from almost every year-end best-of-2014 list I've seen. No matter, it's near the top of the only list that matters (to me).
Looking forward to more greatness from Woods in years to come. Their live shows this year show that there's much more bubbling beneath the surface and we should all be so lucky to see them reach their full potential.
Here is some video of the NYU Joshua Light Show gig... more to be found on YouTube