Live Shots: Wovenhand at Bottom of the Hill

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Although the notoriously devout David Eugene Edwards would probably be appalled to hear it, attending his shows is about as close to a religious experience as I ever get.

The ferociously intense frontperson of Wovenhand (as well as the former 16 Horsepower), Edwards was instrumental in the foundation of the hyper-localized alt-Americana/gothic-folk genre known as the Denver Sound, a category filled with moody ballads of shaken faith and raucous, C&W-tinged fire-and-brimstone.

And there’s just something about the sheer unapologetic bombast of his live presence that makes me want to don sackcloth and ashes on the spot and follow the path of the righteous — a feeling which lasts at least until I manage to break away from his sermon on the mount (or any rate, the Bottom of the Hill) to stumble home, still a sinner.

Clearly I’m not the only heathen who feels this way, as evidenced by a cluster of audience members at Saturday’s show clad earnestly in t-shirts proclaiming pagan-esque affinities (“Keep Thor in Thursday” is my favorite) bobbing their heads solemnly like everyone else to Edwards’ unmistakably Christian lyrics; music our common sacrament.

Watching Edwards onstage is not unlike watching the charismatic theatre of a revival-meeting minister, from his unwavering focus, to his fearless exhortations for repentance and mercy. Himself the grandson of a traveling preacher man on one side of the family, and a nomadic Native American entertainer who traveled (it’s said) from town to town with a trained bear, Edwards always appears to be equally influenced by both.

At one point speaking in tongues, eyes rolled back, at another whooping into the mic as Ordy Garrison on drums pounds out a tribal rhythm seemingly pulled from the very bones of the continent. In various incarnations, Edwards has displayed facility with all kinds of instruments, but for Saturday’s show he limited himself to three — two guitars and his signature hybrid mandolin-banjo built in the late 1800s, which gives off an almost ethereal twang from four nylon strings.

A word about Garrison. A Wovenhand collaborator for every album since ‘03’s Blush Music, he may well be the unsung driving force behind the evolution of the music, which grows heavier and more deeply layered with every progressive album. His timing is impeccable and he clearly sits in a position of power, directing much of the ebb and flow from his upstage perch.

A much newer recruit, Sir Charles French, who played guitar on Wovenhand’s latest album The Laughing Stalk (Sounds Familyre, 2012), but bass for the show, gave off a less anchored aura, perhaps due to less familiarity with the instrument in his hands, perhaps for other reasons, but fortunately with Wovenhand there are few fancy bass lines to worry about — a throbbing pulse sufficed quite well, pairing neatly with an undercurrent of pre-recorded drone — another Edwards signature.

The set-list, comprised in large part with tracks from The Laughing Stalk included representatives from almost every album since Consider the Birds — including a melancholy old favorite, “Swedish Purse,” an introspective “Kingdom of Ice,” and a bone-shaking “Long Horn”. 

But ultimately with Wovenhand, it’s rarely the precise setlist that gets remembered, so much as the overall effect of spending a solid hour communing with the band. You could almost liken the experience to a midnight mass for lost souls in search of redemption in song — we the flock, and Wovenhand the guiding light.

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