Arriving onstage to a roar of excitement from the crowd, frontman David Eugene Edwards, thrusts his arms up demanding a greater noise, the crowd oblige whooping and hollering. An exciting line-up of musicians take to the stage, when touring gentler albums this Colorado based band have represented as a three-piece band, tonight they are five men strong, intent on playing a heavy show comprising of tracks from the last three Wovenhand albums.
To set the pace, a throbbing bassline and a racing beat from the drum starts The Hired Hand, from stellar new album Star Treatment. Rich with twanging guitar and a lyricism most at home with in the genre of Americana, this song and tracks from Star Treatment feature a harder rock sound with new elements of synth beams thanks to Matthew Smith on Moog. Far from seeming out of place with already genre blending mix, the synth sounds like the signal for the special effects in a 70’s action TV show and give songs added dimension. From this full force opener, they thunder directly through, Refractory Obdurate track, Hiss.
Hiss is a raucous number with the increasingly trademark underpinning of Native American percussion and melodies and secondary percussion lifted from indigenous America, the traditional folk of Europe and North Africa. Layer upon layer of music echoing the common patterns found across the globe and merging into a swirling, primal sound that seems to instinctively resonate with those who hear it.
Some of the more subdued, meditative album tracks receive a reworking for this show, like Maize from 2012 album The Laughing Stalk. Gone is the emphasis on the clinking piano melody which accompanies the softly chanting chorus, replaced by percussion dialled up to the setting of pulverise. The mindful chant of “Oh the height and breadth, the width and depth” becomes a full throated outcry from Edwards which causes audience members to raise their hands as if to physically catch the words.
There is more than a hint of religious revival to a Wovenhand show, whether you are a Christian or not is irrelevant, the spiritualty being summoned doesn’t have a name but the consequence of such powerful performance is that you will feel it.
Crystal Palace is the kind of track which when listening to it on the album, you might imagine yourself driving along an endless, straight highway. Played live, the focus is squarely on Edwards and his skill at playing the neck of his guitar with expertise using a simple slide. Beautiful, rounded notes are illustrated with Edward’s free hand as he mimics pulling back a bow string, this dance of equal tension continues as he crooks his head in a listening gesture.
Switching from his guitar to an amplified mandolin for Corsicana Clip, Edwards plucks out a folk melody, but once more the song has been modified for the event and a new power and intensity is drawn out with primitive drums and a vocal that sounds like it is being drawn from the molten core of the earth and bellowed through his body and released in an eruption of emotion. His voice is a dominant instrument and his singing style unique, how wonderful then to find his vocals mirrored and backed up by guitarist Chuck French.
Matched in height and long, lean physique, topped with a mop of sweat dripping black hair tied with a bandana, he stands as a tonal opposite to Edwards bright blond, but the harmonies and the guttural power of their vocals could force their words through the hearts of their audience. Their interplay continues during The Refractory and Obdurate Obscura, Edwards dancing a sliding step to and away from French, sharing the energy at the front of the stage.
Colossal torch song The Quiver, a contemplation of ancestry, of family and belonging, builds from downbeat to a raging crescendo of drums and outburst of shouts and cries that sees the crowd stomping, beating their chests and casting their arms out in concordance.
Swaying Reed is played as a stirring, ambient piece of disorienting industrial blues, with Edwards spinning in a revolving dance around the stage his physical control and body tension showing no sign of tiring as they punch and crash through hard driving Salome and deeply melodic All Your Waves. Edwards wailing vocals seem not to come from a single human, rather they are channelled, the affect feels unsettling as he turns on the spot as if his body is free floating, possessed through Crook and Flail.
The overlapping vocals on Low Twelve and reverberating guitar sees the crowd swaying in an ecstatic state, moving, being swept up by the waves of music washing over them. The much changed song El-Bow is played with ferocity, the drumming taking on such weight that it almost becomes a sensory assault.
Just as the sound builds the band members excuse themselves from the stage one at a time leaving drummer Ordy Garrison to benefit from the crowd’s appreciation of the mammoth sound he sent forth from the back of the stage. As the song fades it is replaced by pre-recorded traditional Native American chanting. Listening now it is clear how much closer in strength Native music is to Wovenhand compared to ‘spiritual’ new age music or dance tracks with toned down chants mixed on multitrack until homogenised into meaningless nostalgia.
After a brief recess the band remerges on stage with Edwards thanking everyone for their enthusiastic applause before blasting out King O Kings. Edwards and French once again drive the music as one lurches forward the other ducks back on their hunches in time with the pulse of the song. Facing each other they watch, checking with one another to find the moment to hit the stride of finale song Come Brave.
This encore embodies so much of what is essential about live music; to not simply hear the music but to feel it, to see the performers and draw something vital from their outpouring of energy, and the much rarer gift that the transformational power that a shared experience has.
Most bands of this calibre with such a strong back catalogue of music play a predictable set of ‘best hits so far and stuff from the new album’, come to a Wovenhand show and you will have to abandon all expectations, you cannot guarantee what you will hear and that should be reason enough to go back again and again and again.
Review by Sarah Sievers & Photography by Belle Piec
Wovenhand @The Dome, London 18th October 2016.