Through pouring rain and a pandemic, live music will prevail—that’s what The Werks proved this past Saturday at Cincinnati, OH’s Riverfront Live where the Dayton-bred jam quartet played their first show since February in the face of fierce opposition from nature.
Along the banks of the Ohio river, this mainstay of the state’s improvisational music scene delivered a comeback show for its devout Midwestern audience. The concert actually marked the group’s second “comeback” of 2020, after previously returning from a self-imposed six-month hiatus in February with the fourth annual installment of the Winter Werk Out indoor music festival in Columbus.
Following an opening set from hometown act Peridoni, The Werks kicked off their show with “Lights Out” before a sold-out, socially-distanced crowd spread out in pods across the venue’s spacious back lot. The show was immediately stolen by keyboardist Dan Shaw, whose emboldened synth work on the punchy tune brought the band hot out of the gate. In the two slot came “Drop”, where a bit of onstage difficulties initially resulted in a jam that couldn’t quite connect. Eventually, however, guitarist Chris Houser returned the group to a tranquil middle ground guiding the improvisation back home.
Without breaking stride, “Drop” fell straight into an impromptu, open-ended jam that saw The Werks stretching out their legs and finding a comfort zone after being away from the stage for one of the longest periods in their more-than 15-year career. After planting its seeds as an ambiently-funky vehicle led by a wet bass line from Jake “Baby Hands” Goldberg, this “River Jam” eventually built to a massive peak that seemed as if it could have been a pre-arranged number but, in reality, was only the sight composition prowess of The Werks on full display.
With that, drummer Rob Chafin led the band into the debut of a new original song, “Hold Your Line”. The band’s forthcoming album, Sonder, has been in production for some time, with fans receiving a first taste last year with the release of the Sonder (Encounters) EP. With the introduction of “Hold Your Line”, a Chafin-centered power ballad with big potential for type one jams, the Sonder tracklist has now reached five, following the debut of Shaw’s “Beautiful Mistake” at Winter Werk Out.
Now that the early-show jitters had subsided and the band showed the crowd what they had been up to these past few months, the concert started to finally feel somewhat conventional—even as fans were huddled in PVC pipe pens. Following a traditional run through the Magic instrumental “Into The Moss”, The Werks reached into their back catalog to pull out the somber “Sane” from the band’s 2009 debut record, Syanpse.
Not one to end the set on a solemn note, the band delivered a one-two punch with a late set “No Prisoners” followed by “Slab”. The former song saw Shaw ditching his tightly-tied man bun to let a quarantine mane fly erratically as he head-banged along like a mad scientist in the lab with the creation he concocted. For the set-closing “Slab”, The Werks bordered on a dinner theatre atmosphere with the enhanced thematic storytelling devices employed in the Houser-led stomper.
Set break saw the foretold storm clouds roll in as the band’s crew braced the stage for impact. All the while, fans sat in their pods, patiently waiting as whoever was running the PA made cheeky jokes like playing Toto‘s “Africa”, stopping the song just prior to “I bless the rains down in Africa.”
The Werks returned to the stage as the clouds over Cincinnati began to leak. While the rain may have been a deterrent in a normal situation, this concert was far from normal; if anything, the precipitation had an invigorating effect on both the band and the audience. As The Werks dove into the instrumental “Moonset” like a rocket about to blast off from port, the rain appeared to bolster the band’s abilities. Here they were, playing on against the elements—both in terms of weather and the global pandemic—and the movie heroes came to save the day from the eternal drought of live music. As for the audience, we once again knew what it felt like to dance around like hippies in the rain, fulfilling the communal Woodstock fantasy.
Keeping that momentum going, the band followed with the disco backroom boogie “Stars Collide” as the rain began to come down harder and harder. The entire back lot of Riverfront Live held its collective breath, praying against lightning, as Chafin sang out to the night sky. Having relied mainly on fairly recent material so far, The Werks threw things back a bit with a nod to their roots with “Galactic Passport” as those who stayed out in the rain—rather than taking shelter in the open-garage layout of Riverfront Live’s interior—became bonded together in shared duty.
Even with the emboldened mindset of the group, it was time to slow things down a bit with the band’s first-ever take on Neil Young‘s “Down By The River”. Stationed adjacent to the Ohio River, the song was a fitting choice, if a bit on the nose. While it may not have been the most exciting number for the rhythm section of the group or the audience as the song dragged on noticeably long—even for a jam band—it served as a much-needed guitar hero moment for Houser.
After shifting down perhaps one gear too many, it was time to get the crowd moving again. The rain having somewhat subsided, everyone was back out for a highly-anticipated run through a reigning fan favorite, “Flatiron”. Since debuting at The Werkers Union Holiday Party at Woodlands Tavern on December 22nd, 2018—snuck at the very end of a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover set—the Sonder (Encounters) song has been a must for any Werks concert.
With the energy flowing full-force once again, The Werks dusted off “Finding Destiny”, which had been out of the rotation for a number of years. Both the song itself, as well as the improvisation that it inspired, harkened back to the group’s salad days before a more funk-oriented approach ceded some ground to electronic elements.
Following a brief encore break, The Werks returned to the stage for one last number–the instrumental onslaught of “O.G.”. Yet another relic from the same self-titled album, the song saw the group pounding out their last ounces of energy in a memorable hardcore jam where each member soaked up the fleeting final moments onstage.
Yet, unlike many other acts, The Werks knew when they would next grace the stage as the band announced a two-night run of drive-in concerts with Twiddle at Legend Valley in Thornville, OH next month. The concerts, set for October 23rd and 24th, will take place at the home of The Werk Out Music And Arts Festival. For tickets and information, click here.
Scroll down to see footage as well as a gallery of images from The Werks at Riverfront Live in Cincinnati, OH on September 12th courtesy of photographer Charles Izenstark.
The Werks – Set One – Cincinnati, OH – 9/12/20
The Werks – Set Two – Cincinnati, OH – 9/12/20
The Werks – “Hold Your Line” – Cincinnati, OH – 9/12/20
The Werks – “Slab” – Cincinnati, OH – 9/12/20
The Werks – “Down By The River” (Neil Young) – Cincinnati, OH – 9/12/20
Setlist: The Werks | Riverfront Live | Cincinnati, OH | 9/12/20
Set one: Lights Out, Drop > River Jam, Hold Your Line , Into The Moss, Sane, No Prisoners, Slab
Set two: Moonset, Stars Collide, Galactic Passport, Down By The River (Neil Young) , Flatiron, Finding Destiny