By: Justin Hicken
“You guys are witnessing the toddler-stages of this band.” Bear Rinehart said to a crowd of curious attendees on October 2nd, at the Metro Music Hall in Salt Lake City.
“This is honestly like our 16th show ever,” Rinehart explained. This was done in such a calculated way, that he both built up the excitement for the few privileged fans getting to witness the infant stages of the band, while also allowing for a few hiccups here and there along with some growing pains.
Wilder Woods is both the stage name and album title of the NEEDTOBREATHE front man’s newest project. The moniker comes from the first names of each of Rinehart’s sons, Wilder and Woods. While he only just released his debut album, Rinehart mentioned that they were going to play “everything they got” that night.
Just as there was some mystery behind the artist when Wilder Woods first two singles were released – there was also a little mystery and connection between the opening band and the main act. Rodrick Cliche & Four20’s came out as the opener and treated the crowd to some funky and soulful jams as a nice foursome with percussion, bass, keys, and guitar. The songs were a mesh of covers with a DJ-like twist. One of the songs was “Africa” by Toto, (Who had ironically just played Salt Lake City a few nights before). The Four20’s successfully got the venue rocking but had a brief performance and left after only 5-6 songs, which included their last and only original song called “Jealous”. This quick opening stint was a little more understood as Rodrick & Four20’s returned to the stage only minutes later as the main band and support for Wilder Woods.
Before Rinehart’s emotional entrance onto the stage, (Do I even have to mention that a lot of ladies were swooning in anticipation?) a cloth covering was removed from the center floor of the stage to reveal a white shaggy rug. The rug would serve as the home base for Rinehart that night. As the cloth covering the rug was removed, some incense was also lit. This gave the room a more rustic, intimate cabin-like type feel to the stage. As Rinehart entered, a curtain that had hung at the back of the stage, unnoticed by most, dropped to reveal a large elegant “W” in cursive made of lit bulbs.
We were off.
“Light Shine In” the opening track of the album also served as the opening song that night. Perfectly suited with a nice slow build up to a heavier tempo to bring the crowd up to rocking speed. A favorite jam/surprise of the night was Wilder Woods covering a combo song of Grnal’s Barkley’s “Crazy” which then bled into a cover of Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”.
Anyone who has seen or is familiar with NEEDTOBREATHE is aware of the room-commanding vocals Rinehart wields. They are powerful and they are unique. While those same powerful vocals were present, the Wilder Woods project and music has a unique flavor from NEEDTOBREATHE and has more roots of soulful r&b but still a solid rock sound. Rinehart did a little storytelling as he bridged his way through the set of fresh tracks. “I used to hate dancing,” he told everybody before he went on to shake it down from the top of the stage while standing on a monitor. He invited everybody to just let go and dance too.
A beautiful intro to the song “Hillside House” took the audience on a journey of how Rinehart went out to a house one day with a colleague on a songwriting assignment. While at this house Rinehart explained that he just had this feeling that that was the house that he should raise his family in. Another funny anecdote was delivered as Rinehart explained the difficulty of writing songs about his family. The song “Mary You’re Wrong” was not initially received well by his wife (named Mary), but she eventually warmed up to it.
At one point in the show, Rinehart jumped into the audience and sang and danced with everybody. He high-fived fans and stood still for a few seconds while still singing so that people could get selfies with the incredible talent. Another highlight of the show was when Rinehart ditched the stage mic to sing the song “Religion”. There was a power in the room as just the sound of Rinehart’s voice echoed throughout it. The audience was then invited to act as support and sing along with him for the end of the song. What a beautiful and powerful moment.
It’s interesting to see how certain artists can grow and thrive with different projects and bands while playing similar yet different music. Tom Petty had the Heartbreakers, but he also had Mudcruth, The Traveling Wilburys, and solo projects. More recently we’ve seen Phoebe Bridges experiment with her own band, but also form supergroups such as Boy Genius, and The Better Oblivion Community Center. Wilder Woods has that same creative feel for Bear Rinehart. A great opportunity for new creations and wonderful music.
While Wilder Woods has wrapped up his first U.S. shows, and currently warming up to play his first shows in Europe and overseas, I’m confident more shows will be on the horizon in the U.S. soon. Check them out if you get the chance.