The first Saturday of April marked the first performance of 2022 for Ohio-based psychedelic dance rock outfit the Werks, but the band hasn’t missed a beat.
The four-piece, composed of Rob Chafin (drums and vocals), Chris Houser (guitar and vocals), Chuckie Love (bassist and vocals), and Dan Shaw (keyboards, synthesizers, and vocals), headlined its Werk Out West Superjam at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom.
The six-hour musical marathon kicked off with electro-jam-funk band Digzo on opening duties before the Werks took center stage for its own magnetic performance. The show even closed with a superjam finale showcasing Denver-based musicians, including SunSquabi’s Kevin Donohue and Joshua Fairman, Break Science’s Borham Lee and Nick Gerlach — who also soundtracked the fifteen-minute changeovers between sets with hybrid saxophone-DJ performances.
“To have our first show of the year here in Denver is so fitting,” Chafin smiles. “It’s one of our favorite places to play. It just feels like home — we have the home-field advantage.”
Cervantes' truly has been a home-away-from-home for the Werks, which initially debuted its Werk Out West concept at the legendary venue back in 2017 as an expansion of the band’s annual The Werk Out Music & Arts Festival, which takes place in Thornville, Ohio.
“I got a call out of the blue from Rob, who said, ‘Would you be interested in coming back?’” Love explains. “And I said, ‘Rob, I’ve been waiting for this call for 10 years.’ During our first practice back together it was like ‘Bam! There it is!’ It was like I never left.”
After forming in 2005 and adding Love back into the mix in 2020, the Werks now includes the most original members the band has had since 2011 (Chafin, Love, Houser, and Shaw joined the group in 2014). Saturday night’s Werk Out West Superjam marked the first time this current iteration of the Werks played together at Cervantes, and Chafin feels the band is “stronger than ever.”
“We’ve been wanting to get him back for a while, but the timing just wasn’t there,” Chafin says. “But we knew we wanted to bring the gang back together. It’s more than ever The Werks. Since we’ve played together for so long, we came back with a chemistry that feels so natural.”
That chemistry wafted into the packed, buzzing crowd as the quartet sauntered on stage on Saturday night. Their hour-and-a-half performance showcased the poignant songwriting, rapturous instrumentals, sonorous vocals, and flourishing melodies that have cemented The Werks as creative leaders in the jam band world.
“We’re primarily rock-based, but we love to dive into improv and we like to keep it upbeat,” Houser explains. “We like to keep asses shaking.”
Fans were certainly tearing up the dance floor as the Werks led an exploratory tour of their catalog, commencing with a driving display of “Headin’ South” before diving into hits like the melancholy tear-jerker “Into The Moss,” the percussion-forward singalong “Drop,” the gripping, voltaic rock-anthem “Moonset,” and the sinuous, jamtastic groove “Galactic Passport.”
Once the Werks’ set ended, the stage exploded with local talent for the coveted superjam. Chafin, Shaw and Houser were joined by Donohue, Fairman, Lee, Gerlach and more for hours of improvisational experimentation, noodling through extended jams and funky covers including Jeff Beck’s “Thelonius” and Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock.” It was the first time many of the musicians shared the stage, sans late night jam sessions in their homes.
“I’m really excited because Chris Houser is one of my favorite guitar players,” Donohue gushes. “Since we played the Werk Out Festival around 2013, these guys really took us under their wing and we’ve developed this symbiotic relationship where we keep growing together.”
All of the Denver-based musicians selected to participate in the Superjam had previously performed at ‘The Werk Out Music & Arts Festival,’ which will return to Thornville, Ohio’s Legend Valley for its twelfth annual edition July 12-14. Chafin explains that the Werks started its own festival as a party for friends back in 2010, but now considers the annual romp more of a community than a festival.
The 2022 festival will feature a plethora of bands playing the event for the first time ever, including a notable bevy of female-fronted acts such as Lawrence, Doom Flamingo, Melt and Turkuaz. “There needs to be more representation in this scene,” Chafin states.
The Werks’ highly-anticipated return to Cervantes' reminded both attendees and Superjam collaborators what its project is all about — exploratory creativity and impromptu magic.
“I love the Werks, and without the Werks, the jam scene we have today really wouldn't be the same,” Donohue explains. “They’re one of the bands who led the way by starting their own festival, and helping other bands regionally to get to where they were at.”
To learn more about the Werks, visit its website.