This was easily one of the bands playing at NxNE that I was the most excited to experience live. Denver’s Woodsman has been a type of an enigma to me since I heard them for the first time back in January. Their single, “Insects,” has kept me enslaved to their post-rock psychedelic whirlwind. It’s one of my favorite songs of the year and opened the door for me to consider the band one of my favorites today. Whether it’s a four-minute single, or 19-minute escapade of wonder and exploration, these guys are fascinating musicians with a kindred spirit unmatched by many performers today.
Witnessing their live performance caught me off guard, and I don’t mean that negatively at all. If I’m remembering correctly, I believe there were only three out of the four members playing at El Mocambo in Toronto. While the extra percussionist would’ve definitely added an exciting layer to their sound, it didn’t take away from Woodsman compositions that are as intriguing as they are entertaining. The piece of their live performance that surprised me the most was the distortion and heaviness attached to their arrangements. Usually when listening to Woodsman, the songs drift back and forth in a calm sea of clean strums and picking, with the intense drumming to support the rhythmic density. As one song finishes, the next song moves in with the tide in a one swift motion. Not that I didn’t feel that at their NxNE performance, but I wasn’t expecting the level of intensity that was there. And it was brilliant.
As the opening number pulsated with droning guitars and feedback, the eventual fade into a casual drumbeat marked the beginning of “Insects.” From that moment on, we were off to the races. The band weaved in and out of reverberative guitar tones and hectic drum patterns, while including chanting vocals from time to time. Throughout the 45-minute set, the band maybe played five songs.
The thing I’ve learned about Woodsman while listening to them for the past six months is that their individual songs don’t seem to matter. On almost all of their albums, the songs move seamlessly from one to the next, which I’ve always enjoyed because it has allowed me to look at the releases as complete pieces instead of being separated into singles. This characteristic doesn’t work for every band, but for Woodsman, it works wonders.
The band, while sounding much more aggressive live, used this seamless strategy to move from song to song, with distortion and feedback providing the bridge. I found myself closing my eyes at times in an attempt to take in the moments of complexity and separate the melodies from the rhythms. When I’d eventually open them, the band would be headbanging and thrashing on their guitars as if they were playing the soundtrack to the end of the world. It was a glorious moment and definitely one of my favorites from the weekend. This was a performance to remember and one that made me a more dedicated fan than I already was.
The band has just finished up a tour with Lefse Records label-mates Tape Deck Mountain – who I will be reviewing soon – and have just released a new song called “Tone Cloak.” The near-eight-minute jam can be had below or on their Bandcamp page.
Woodsman // Tone Cloak [mp3]