About Punt King

Punts, Kicks

Back from a layoff.

My schedule runs uphill these days. I suppose I’m also feeling somewhat greater urgency to live life rather than write about it.

I’m on the night shift at the airport going on fourteen months now with Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off. It kinda sucks.

Other than a fun run out to Chicago for my niece’s first communion in late May, I hadn’t been on a jet this year until last weekend when I went back to the Windy City for a couple of Woods gigs.

Woods sprung a full-length surprise on us May 12th with the release of Love is Love, the band’s tenth record.

I saw Woods a week ago Sunday at West Fest, a street fair on Chicago Avenue near Damen. And then the next night I saw the band with my brother Tim for a proper club show at the Empty Bottle.

The band’s four core members have remained unchanged since April 2014. That continuity has produced some pretty amazing chemistry and stage professionalism. Most live shows now also feature the inclusion of John Andrews on either the organ or drums. He also contributes wonderful backing vocals. His mike was turned way up high for both of the Chicago shows.

Depending on the locale, Woods tries to recruit a local horn player to join them on stage. For the Chicago gigs, Jerome Croswell came on for the horn parts. He played the soaring, heart-tugging trumpet line on Bleeding Blue from the new record with great aplomb.

Before the West Fest show, Woods guitarist Jarvis Taveniere appeared to offer Croswell brief guidance. He referenced what appeared to be sheet music on an e-tablet propped up on a music stand.

Since some of the best numbers on each of the last two Woods records are horn heavy, it must be a challenge to decide how and when to deploy those songs live when the cost/practicality of employing a full-time touring horn player is a consideration.

Croswell’s effectiveness with so little (or none perhaps) advanced rehearsal time with the band was deeply impressive – even emotional.

After each of the two Chicago gigs, Woods frontman Jeremy Earl embraced Croswell, administering a long hug – surely a sign of his deep appreciation for the effort.

The third show I caught in the sequence was here on home turf. Woods played Bowery Ballroom Saturday night. As he has for other NYC shows, Andrews sat behind a second drum kit next to primary drummer Aaron Neveu. The band used local musician Kyle Forester on keys and sax and Cole Kamen-Green on trumpet.

Opening with four songs from four different records, Earl (pictured above) and Woods ended up playing numbers from seven different releases. The highlight was an extended jam on The Take. I timed the song’s duration at about 15 and a half minutes. The reason I kept track was because my brother stood next to a guy at the Empty Bottle show who was taping the gig with his phone. He claimed the running time on The Take that night was 23 minutes!

Woods went on the big Bowery stage at about 1015 PM. The crowd was thin despite the fact the band had logged sellouts at the same venue and at MHOW in recent years. I’d chalk up the poor gate for Saturday’s show to timing.  Several performances competing for music fan dollars during the same time slot included Waxahatchee and My Morning Jacket – and to a lesser extent Bellows and Pill.

Here’s the set list:

Woods – Bowery Ballroom – 7-15-17 – running time: 91 minutes

Cali in a Cup

Be All Be Easy

Leaves Like Glass

Politics of Free

Sun City Creeps (Rachel Neveu of the Yawns came on and played flute)

The Take (Forester engages in pre-tune chattiness, unusual for a Woods performance)

Love is Love

Rain On (much different sounding than from the green bullet days)

Lost in a Crowd

Bleeding Blue (a couple monitor squeals mid-tune but Jeremy’s “oohs” incredible and a great expanded ending)

Love is Love – Sun on Time (the Jarvis guitar line makes this one)

With Light and With Love

Suffering Season

New Light

Moving to the Left (serious dancing up front)

Not often one to dig much into US history, I was thoroughly floored in recent weeks while reading William Bradford Huie’s book about US Army Private Eddie Slovik from Detroit, MI.

Slovik was shot to death by a firing squad comprised of US Army men in a small town in France on January 31, 1945 for the crime of desertion. He was 24 years old.

Then-General Dwight Eisenhower ordered the execution after Slovik twice acted to avoid the fight shortly after arriving on bloody World War 2 battlefields in the north of France.

Slovik had repeatedly made clear to his superiors before getting shipped to war that he missed his physically-challenged wife and wanted to return home to resume his life with her.

Published in 1954, “The Execution of Private Slovik” is a well-constructed, tirelessly reported, fact-packed account of Slovik’s pretty mundane life that becomes exceptional for how it ends. He was – and will likely stay forever – the only US soldier since 1864 to be killed by the US government for desertion.

Huie’s book is written much like a long magazine story with wonderful background from dozens of named sources. The real treasure of the book comes from the release of hundreds of love letters written by Slovik to his wife Antoinette while they were apart. Cooperation on the book from Slovik’s wife via the correspondence is crucial because it allows Huie to tell Eddie’s story without ever having been able to speak with him. He didn’t like guns, he feared conflict and he was so attached to his wife and their life together that he felt it was unfair the government was taking that away from him.

Eddie Slovik’s execution was long hidden from Antoinette and the public by the US Government. It was only when Huie met with her to discuss the book that she gained fuller knowledge of what happened. A postscript written by the publisher in a paperback version of the book more than two decades later says the US had long rejected all efforts by the widow to gain a modest death benefit and the return of her husband’s remains to Detroit. Jimmy Carter got involved on her behalf in 1978 to no avail but in 1987 a WW2 Vet named Bernard Calka won the return of his body so it could be buried next to Antoinette’s (she died in 1979).

I learned of Huie’s book from a NY Times Book Review piece in December entitled “The Year in Reading.” In it, the Times asked notable readers about what they read in 2016. The Serial podcast host/executive producer Sarah Koenig said she got a tout on the book by a former commander of Bowe Bergdahl. And so it goes.

Westholme Publishing sells paperback copies of the book via its web site. I borrowed my like-new copy from the Queens Library.