WovenHand at The Dome, Tufnell Park

Support: Emma Ruth Rundle
October 18, 2016 at The Dome, Tufnell Park

It was the final, highly anticipated date on Wovenhand’s Star Treatment tour, an album departing the band’s dark folk period and looking back to 16 Horsepower’s hard rock edge. Joining Wovenhand on their European tour is gothic-tinged singer-songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle. While I was largely unfamiliar with Wovenhand save for a quick binge listen a few nights before, I could tell this was a devoted audience, expecting great things, and that’s what they got.

I never miss a chance to see Emma Ruth Rundle perform, especially solo, knowing I’ll get to hear some of my absolute favourite songs in a completely different light. We were treated to a mix of material from her last two solo albums, as well as two very welcome selections from her time writing as The Nocterns (Grandmother Make A Steeple and London Town), but Heaven and Run Forever stood out. Those familiar with her last two albums know that there’s quite a lot going on instrumentally, but solo she mostly plays a distorted acoustic guitar, and on couple of songs was joined by a violinist, most notably on Grandmother Make A Steeple, which suddenly had a beautiful new dimension from the version on Aokigahara.

Hearing these stripped back versions was a real treat, and really let Rundle’s exceptional lyricism shine through in a way I feel they often don’t on her albums because there’s often so much to listen to. It allowed me to fall in love with these songs all over again, hearing them stripped down and rearranged, sometimes to the point where it was hard to tell what the song was until she started singing. I always value performances that give me something that the albums don’t, and Rundle never fails to highlight a different dimension of her music in a live setting.

After a short changeover, Wovenhand took to the stage, lead by their enigmatic frontman, David Eugene Edwards. The first thing that hits you from the first chords of Hired Hand was the enormous intensity Edwards performs with, gliding around the stage with possessed motions when he’s got a moment away from the microphone, waving his arms like snakes when they’re free, sometimes breaking into something reminiscent of mime. I felt completely under his spell, like a fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist preacher putting the fear of God in his congregation. His vocals were very powerful, and I could see the people in front row enjoying a fine spray of spit as he belted out his lyrics, full of religious imagery and intensity.

In a world full of generic hard rock bands covering generic hard rock themes, Wovenhand is a precious bastion of exploration of Edward’s fervent but often troubled and uncomfortable relationship with his beliefs, with underpinnings of gothic country to set their sound apart from thousands of other loud, heavy bands.

Fans of early Wovenhand might have been disappointed by this show, which started loud and only got louder. My main criticism would be that in the last third or so of their set, the songs started to lose a bit of definition, and their quest for volume and intensity lead to a string of songs that I found it hard to differentiate. Now, this was far from bad, I still had a great time and was completely engaged, but I feel like rolling back the volume just a hair would have let the dark Americana elements that make Wovenhand different shine through for the last part of the set.

I had a great night at The Dome, despite a one-man mosh-pit nearly destroying my glasses. Rundle’s set was intimate and powerful, David Eugene Edwards’ stage presence was absolutely bewitching, and his backing band played absolutely ferociously, I especially want to call out the bassist who was rock solid throughout the evening.

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