Shrouded in a moderate haze of fog colored by lights, Woven Hand took the stage as a trio, sounding a bit edgier than in times past. Delay and reverb on Chuck French's bass formed whirlpools of low end around David Eugene Edwards, who was clearly being carried along at times by an unseen spirit he embraced and shook off throughout the show, while drummer Ordy Garrison play rhythms that showcased his deft ability to accent the songs with textures and atmospheric flourishes.
See also: - David Eugene Edwards of Wovenhand on the influence of Middle Eastern music - Album Review: Woven Hand - The Laughing Stalk - Live Review: Woven Hand and Michael Gira at the Oriental Theater, 3/24/12 - Crime and the City Solution at the Oriental Theater, 10/18/12
Drawing largely from the band's two most recent records, The Threshing Floor and The Laughing Stalk, Woven Hand drew us all into a narrative of spiritual crisis, struggle and acceptance. The last part of that was mostly implied through the heightened emotional state the outfit created and sustained for much of the show. Between songs, Edwards vocalized syllables as if he were in a trance that sounded like some Native American language or Hebrew or Aramaic.
Songs like "A Holy Measure" took on even greater, more imposing stature than it does on record, as did "Sinking Hands." A dense and deep mood flowed through the music as the trio struck electrifying moments of catharsis. Even "His Rest," easily one of the most conventionally melodic songs in the band's recent catalog, benefited greatly from a far more robust and intuitive low end from French.
Impressively, even performing such emotionally-demanding music for over twenty years, Edwards is obviously still capable of being caught up in the moment. Throughout the set, he would step back and forth and flutter backward like James Brown, like a marionette guided by unseen forces channeling through him, be it ancestors or God. There was definitely a sense that Edwards has found that balance of taking control in moments and allowing a subconscious direction surge through him in bursts of physical gesture.
And while the songs from The Laughing Stalk seemed grittier and edgier, they're are clearly no less informed by an inner sense of a personal spiritual mission. "Glistening Black" was a harrowing but electrifying, and "In the Temple," whose tonal logic and overall structure seemed almost triumphant and celebratory, sounded like it had to have been written by a different band.
Seeing "Long Horn" performed live was reminiscent of seeing Tarmints a decade ago, or what it might have been like to see a more meditative the Gun Club -- dark and haunting. The main set ended with the towering "King O King," and Edwards seemed almost to stumble back at times with the weight of the words he conveyed during that song. After a double encore of five songs, the show concluded with a rousing version of "Whistling Girl," with Garrison playfully bouncing a hand drum off his floor tom a handful of times to send us on our way.
The show last night started off with Reverend Dead Eye. After many years as a wandering minstrel of liquorfied gospel and blues, he is back to living in the Denver area. This performance showed that he has not streamlined his act so much as refined what made it always so interesting. Some of the more recent acts that merge the worlds of gospel and blues mix in rock like they're trying to be Creedence Clearwater Revival. Dead Eye grew up listening to the people that influenced that band.
With a bottle of snake oil tucked down at the base of his hi-hat, Reverend treated us to some old classics with some changes to the lyrics to reflect the times, especially so on "You Can't Take it With You When You Die," at the end of which Dead Eye encouraged us to sing along. The last third to a half of the set started off with Dead Eye telling us "I'm gonna bring in a train song after I tune this guitar."
But it wasn't just one train song, it was a train of train songs. And in each, the Reverend sussed out the nuances of the train as one of the central metaphors of one side of his songwriting: The train as an agent of deux ex machina, an inanimate object that moves along tracks built through the good graces of human toil by people not paid nearly enough for their sacrifice and often oppressed through land appropriated by conquest and fiat.
There's this sense that flows through Dead Eye's song narrative and storytelling that was made more explicit here by his noting that the train went through land he grew up on when he was a kid in Arizona, "The train flew by with sacred mountains on each side, north and south." The train for Dead Eye is the machine that comes to take you away out of this life or out of this terrible situation you may find yourself in, never to come back.
The train is also "bound for glory," a path to salvation, and it can take you and people you never know to a better, or at least different place. Seemed like the Reverend played three or four songs with this kind of meta-narrative but came off like some bluesman and tent revival preacher of old with electric guitar. At the end of the set, Dead Eye played a song in which he made more extensive use of a delay pedal or sampler of some kind, so that he could sing a line of "Drunk on Jesus" and then sing "Wake up sinner, wake up!" over the top, giving it an odd depth that also seemed playful.
Personal Bias: I greatly respect David Eugene Edwards's ability to weave a real emotional experience and give himself up to the moment. I also think Chuck French is one of the most talented musicians in Denver.
Random Detail: Ran into Mike Long, Ed and Katie Marshall of Forests of Azure, Curtis "The Taint" Wallach and Suzanne Magnuson of The River Drifters and Andrew Novick at the show.
By the Way: The vinyl for The Laughing Stalk is a work of art in itself. Also available at the show was a 180-gram double-vinyl Woven Hand live album and a beautiful book of lyrics. The T-shirts with the Chuck French design and no words were also excellent.