Maybe it’s a sign of the cynical age we live in or simply a musical style that’s fallen from favor, but not many bands create drama with their performances. When you see one that does, as with Wovenhand’s show at the Bluebird Theater last night, it reminds you of something you had forgotten was possible with music.
With the Native American chant that preceded the first song, “Winter Shaker” from the 2006 album “Mosaic,” Wovenhand’s David Eugene Edwards invited the audience to join him on a trek through wilderness, fleeting desert mirages and passages where redemption might finally be found. Seated in front of two microphones and playing guitar and mandolin, Edwards found ways to use his body as a conduit for the songs as well, jerking his head from side to side, moving his feet in seated dances, waving his hands like a flamenco player summoning the spirits of duende. It was theatrical — and the songs unraveled into cinematic vignettes.
Bassist Paschal Humbert, drummer Ordy Garrison and touring member Jeff Linsenmaier on piano and keyboards provided a haunting complement to songs that explored pain and strength like the aural equivalents of a Cormac McCarthy novel or a scene in a painting by Hieronymous Bosch. In addition to the foreboding Appalachian melodies that have been a part of this music since Edwards founded 16 Horsepower in the early ‘90s, Wovenhand has now brought in Middle Eastern accents that provide the sound with even more mystery and depth.
On his Gretsch electric guitar, Edwards played ringing leads throughout “A Holy Measure” from the album “The Threshing Floor,” behind which the band is now touring. The guitar gave the song a heavier and more jangled feel than the studio version. Edwards created the sound of someone knocking on a door by hitting his knuckles against the body of the guitar before tearing into “Raise Her Hands.” He thumped his chest in the song through the lines, “Mine and the hearts that pound around me/Mine and the hearts that pound all around me.”
“Tin Finger,” from the album “Consider the Birds,” began with a spoken word chant and featured Humbert riding a thunderous bass line throughout. With a “medicine tongue and a heavy hand,” “Your Russia” built to a furious crescendo in its journey through an unforgiving landscape and encounters with people along the road who are not to be trusted. Edwards crouched up from the chair and shook like he was recoiling from the reports of his guitar. The audience seemed hit by the energy.
The encore began with Edwards’ solo on mandolin performing “Whistling Girl” and flowing straight through to “Orchard Gate.” His picking style smoothed out the sound of the instrument in deeper tones. He closed his eyes in conversation with the characters in the songs. Some people in the crowd moved closer to the edge of the stage — as if to better glimpse what he was seeing. By this point in the show, it seemed almost possible.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and is currently finishing his second novel.
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.