Mitch Woods at Chans

By Matt MacDonald
September 2015

Mitch Woods and his “Little Rhody” 88’s played at Chan’s in Woonsocket, RI on Friday, August 14th. It was the last show of the San Francisco based piano man’s brief New England tour before heading back to the West Coast.

Woods delivered a two-set show to the nearly sold out room, mixing up a dose of originals and covers in the boogie-woogie, New Orleans, jump, and Chicago piano styles that he describes as “rock-a-boogie.”

Backing him were local stalwarts Tom Ferraro on guitar, Marty Ballou on bass, Mark Teixeira on drums, and – filling in on very short notice – Bryan Steele on sax.

As is Woods’ style, he usually travels alone when he’s touring and meets up with his regional bands (ergo the tongue-in-cheek “Little Rhody” 88’s… in Gloucester the same group was the “Eastern” 88’s), sending them his sheet music in advance. Without being informed of this by the man himself, listeners at Chan’s would have been hard pressed to guess this; everyone sounded tight and looked loose as they rolled their way through songs that – no matter what they were about – had a good time feel to them. Chan’s has a dance floor, small and awkwardly placed, wedged into a corner, and getting to it requires maneuvering around closely positioned tables, chairs, and people. Not an easy trip. Nonetheless, a few pairs got up and made it. Such was the nature of the music.

Woods added to this mood by interacting jovially with the audience and entertaining them with his quips, observations, and stories: complaining about his rental car (a Chevy Spark… I saw it parked out in front as I left: it’s the anti-Cadillac) before breaking into “I Bought A New Car”; comparing notes with a panama hat wearing fan about their upbringings in Brooklyn (“You were one of those Irish kids that beat me up on my way home from school!”); confiding to the audience about technical difficulties: his keyboard required the sound man to inexpertly secure it to the stand with duct tape (“He’s taping the keys up! That’s not gonna help me! He’s trying to tell me something.”)

It was natural to picture him working on a blues cruise line which he, in fact, does and will be again this coming fall.

Not to be lost in all of this was the music. “Solid Gold Cadillac”, “Amber Lee”, and “Rocket 88” made appearances, as did “I Got News For You”, which provided a nice change of pace. He had played it at the Gloucester Blues Festival, but in the less distracting environment of the more intimate, less brightly lit function room, all attention was on the bandstand and it was easy to follow Woods as he used the high and low ends of the keyboard to create a conversation between the song’s couple. Although this conversation didn’t carry on for very long – it easily could have without being overdone – it showed off some of the more subtle aspects of Woods’ piano playing, which may be harder to hear in his more rollicking tunes.

At times during the evening, he would stretch out and, at one point departing from his set list on a whim, he asked the band to improvise their way through Fats Domino’s “Blue Monday”, which they did without a hitch. Even when Steele – who did a superb job on the sax – missed an intro blast on another song and Woods stopped it to slowly and patiently explain what needed to happen, it was done for laughs more than anything else. He was so amused with it and everything else that, for half of the tune, he had a mildly difficult time getting the lyrics out. It was infectious: first Woods, then the band (including Steele), then members of the audience started smiling and then chuckling. It might have been, as he said later, “this room”, thoughts of finally getting rid of the Spark and flying home, or the birth of a grandchild (happily announced earlier) that contributed to the good vibes. But it was his contagious, feel-good-no-matter-what music that put it all in motion. If everyone had as much fun as Mitch did, then his time at Chan’s was a huge success.

<- back to Features