What do Don McLean, Pink Floyd, and U2 all have in common? In the mind of Westworld actor (and notably skilled singer) Evan Rachael Wood, they all fall under a common theme.
Early in her Wednesday night set at the Independent, Wood explained that she and guitarist Zane Carney enjoyed playing shows centered on a communal subject. At a gig in Japan, they once tackled the entirety of Radiohead’s OK Computer. Last fall, they offered a setlist of spooky songs for their show at San Francisco’s Great American Hall. Tonight, Wood informed the crowd, the conceit would be revolution.
For anyone confused about the structure of this show, you clearly aren’t alone.
By the time Wood and Carney took the stage, the intimate confines of the Independent were, at best, half-full. For a venue that holds a maximum capacity of 500, that’s a bit of a letdown. One can reasonably guess that factors like the show being announced only a few weeks prior and the band’s name (Evan + Zane) not inherently advertising Wood’s involvement both had something to do with the turnout.
While hardly ideal, the small crowd would ultimately play to the strengths of Wood and Carney, who ran through covers ranging from Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” to the insidiously catchy 4 Non Blondes’ hit “What’s Up?” Framed as a singer and guitar duo with wooden stools and charming banter, the evening offered a refreshing counterpoint to the myriad of actors who believe they are entitled to play music simply because they are already famous.
Those who recall Wood’s starring turn in the 2007 Beatles jukebox musical film Across the Universe know that she has the requisite pipes, while Carney dazzled with an array of guitars and several blister-worthy solos. Together they formed the kind of band many of us may dream of starting with our friends — the type of backyard outfit that exists to perform those songs we’ve all sung alone in our showers for years.
The difference, of course, is that Wood and Carney don’t rely on past acclaim or celebrity stature to carry them through takes on beloved classics like “The Sound of Silence” and “Fortunate Son.” Their set featured no entitlement, only genuine enthusiasm — and a handful of dad jokes courtesy of Carney. Before dipping into a rendition of Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” Wood jokingly professed concern that the audience might boo.
For a song that certainly feels somewhat staid at a time when its titular subject is now better known for its record-breaking rents and indifference towards its most impoverished citizens, Wood and Carney’s take still managed to conjure an alluring waft of nostalgia.
Perhaps the most poignant moment was when Wood brought out her Across the Universe co-star — and San Francisco native — Martin Luther McCoy to help out with a cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” With McCoy handling primary vocal duties, the Beatles classic proved its timelessness once more like a fitting coda to a world on the verge of implosion.
Before Evan + Zane performed their revolution soundtrack, opener Cassandra Lewis rewarded an even tinier audience of early arrivals with a voice that can best be described as absolutely fucking incredible. Performing a selection of her own songs, Lewis culminated her set with a powerhouse medley that morphed from Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” into Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” with some interludes of the latter’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” as well.
As anyone who’s ever heard the song can attest, “The Great Gig in the Sky” is not something you cover unless you’re damn sure you can nail it. Lewis was more than qualified, and throughout her performance – which also featured a few saxophone cameos but was otherwise just her alone on stage – one could physically see the rapture and fury of the music manifest on her face as she stretched octaves and belted choruses.
By the time Wood and Carney treated fans to a full rendition of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” the mere notion that they might mind playing to a somewhat empty house was farcical.
They were clearly grateful for everyone who came but watching Wood navigate the lyrical labyrinth of an eight-plus minute song, it seemed possible they might not mind if no one had come at all. For them, the audience felt like a delicious icing, a coating on a cake conceived as a way to get together and live the words of their heroes.
In a world full of artificial sugar, it was a pleasure to sample something naturally sweet. Like all good desserts, here’s hoping there’s a second helping on the way.
Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd)
For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Children of the Revolution (T-Rex)
Ohio (Neil Young)
San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) (Scott McKenzie)
The Ballad of John & Yoko (The Beatles)
War (Edwin Starr)
Turn! Turn! Turn! (The Byrds)
Sunday Bloody Sunday (U2)
The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel)
The Revolution’s Over (John Carney)
Blowin’ in the Wind (Bob Dylan)
Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
American Pie (Don McLean)
Peace Train (Cat Stevens)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)
Imagine (John Lennon)
Heroes (David Bowie)
What’s Up? (4 Non Blondes)
You and Whose Army? (Radiohead)