David Eugene Edwards of Wovenhand. Photo: Madelyn Boudreaux
It’s unusual to have two different, influential bands from the “Denver Sound”––a unique “Gothic Americana” blending of country, bluegrass, gospel, rock that’s brewed in the Mile High City for the last 20 years––play Salt Lake in one 24-hour period, but February at the Urban Lounge gave us just that: Alternative Tentacles’ Slim Cessna’s Auto Club on February 2, and Sounds Familyre artist David Eugene Edwards’ Wovenhand on February 3. While this review is only for the latter performance, it’s impossible not to draw some comparisons of the two at the same time. It was interesting to see these two bands back to back. Although they both are undeniably part of the same sound, and the membership has ties––Slim’s iconic co-frontman, Jay Munly, performed as a clogger in the “Haw” video for Edwards’ previous band, 16 Horsepower (who were also on Alternative Tentacles) and drummer Ordy Garrison (among others) has been active in both––in many ways, they are at the ends of the spectrum for the genre. While Slim’s show is a raucous, often hilarious send-up of a country and western tent revival, Edwards’ is a good deal closer to the real thing, with more rock n’ roll and more Jesus.
It was also interesting that there appeared to be very little crossover of the crowd, considering that in both cases, the crowd comprised roughly 100 people, mainly young hipster folks with a smattering of goths, punks, religious folks (in religious T-shirts) and older, post-punk latter-day Yuppies. Maybe people just had to choose. (I almost wish I had––I’m a little old for two concerts in a row, and my day-job suffers for it!) Slim gets more crowd interaction and a small mosh pit; Wovenhand garners more respectful gaping and some restrained bouncing. Both had the requisite (albeit different) hooting drunk woman who punched me in the kidneys throughout the night. This seems to be my expectation for any Urban Lounge show. Edwards’ Hooting Drunk Woman eventually and completely unselfconsciously smacked him square in the face with her hair while he was trying to go to the dressing room.
Openers were LIGHT/BLACK and INVDRS. INVDRS performed a short, very hard and loud set. Frontman Philip White’s (God’s Iron Tooth) Godflesh T-shirt struck me as amusing, and while perhaps not entirely appropriate, clearly, no offense was taken. I never expected to see Edwards out in front of a self-proclaimed black metal band, grinning and bobbing his head, but now I have. More to my taste was LIGHT/BLACK with their well-crafted gloomy, dissonant and minimalist sound. The four-piece, featuring an adorable Carrie Wakefield on both bass and vocals, has an album due out this spring. Neither band made much conversation with the audience. LIGHT/BLACK didn’t even introduce themselves, just lunched into a song straight out of the sound check with no preamble. The crowd seemed to welcome both bands politely, if not extremely enthusiastically. Then, after very little wait-time, the headliner hit the stage.
Kicking off last fall in Europe and put on hold due to illness and working around Edwards’ performances with the Australian post-punk bad-seeds Crime and The City Solution (also a fantasic show that I caught in Denver), this tour sees a decidedly different lineup and sound from the band, although no less intense. Any hope I’d had to hear some of the more folky tracks from Woven Hand or Mosaic were soon smashed. The playlist was oriented toward the band’s more recent, harder sound. With my preference toward the earlier albums with their less rock sound, I had a hard time picking out the tracks, but they included “King O King” and “Long Horn” from The Laughing Stalk, and “Kicking Bird” from Ten Stones. Another departure from the previous times I’ve seen Edwards perform was that he stood (on a carefully laid Indian blanket) for the performance. While that might not seem unusual for most bands, one of Edwards’ trademarks is that he often performs seated on a stool. Lest this sound boring, it is emphatically not––Edwards, whether performing a role as prophet or actually communing with God on these occasions, is a riveting performer. He shakes and quakes, rolls his eyes back into his head, quivers his feet, and seemingly speaks in tongues. While this standing Edwards’ was more ambulatory, I am not sure he was as enthralling moving around the stage as he is when seated.
Long time drummer Garrison was in fine form, pounding out the often-intricate beats. New addition for this tour Charles Edward French (Git Some) rounded out the band, but it’s hard to take your eyes off the frighteningly charismatic Edwards when he’s onstage. I’ve often thought that it’s a good thing that Edwards opts to share his intensely important religion––he is a devout fire-and-brimstone Christian––through music rather than starting a cult, because I fear he’d be as successful doing the latter, and his fans would likely follow him right off any cliff.
One of the most interesting things about Edwards is his ability to rock out fully within his religion milieu without alienating his audience. The band’s performances are dark and heavy, gothic in the older sense of the word, without even being even slightly offensive. Your grandmother may or may not enjoy the music, but she’d never be offended by Edwards and his fellows. The songs are rarely uplifting in the traditional spirit of Christian music, leaning more toward reminders that the devil will get you, but if that’s not your interest, the music itself is no less enjoyable for its themes.
The evening closed out with a brief encore, and then the Urban Lounge emptied almost immediately, as the crowd made a run for warm homes and warm beds. The tour concluded here in Utah, but the band picks it back up in Europe later this month, and will play seven shows in France, then one each in the Netherlands, Turkey and Greece. Find them online at wovenhand.com.