THE WERKS = Werkin’ in the New Year

Newport Music Hall – 12-30-12 – Columbus, OH

Words/Photos by Ryan Neeley – additional photos by Brian Glass

Chris Houser – Photo by Ryan Neeley – Appalachian Jamwich Photography

Ohio livetronica supergroup The Werks brought their high energy dance-heavy sound to The Newport Music Hall in Columbus on Sunday, 12-30 and New Years Eve for a star-studded extravaganza to celebrate the start of a new year.  The Werks have gained a lot of traction in 2012 after landing a spot in between Bob Weir/Branford Marsalis and Phil and Friends at the All Good Festival in Thornville, OH, putting on their own WerkOut Festival, and touring the country towards the end of the year.

Getting to the venue a little late, I missed some of the openers, but did get to catch Athens, OH group Sassafraz bringing their groove-heavy, jazz/funk influenced urbanesque sound to the stage, courtesy of composer/guitarist Eric Turner and vocalist/rapper Emerson B., who has a stage presence to be reckoned with.  This band has a unique approach to their music, moving from psychedelic extended guitar licks to driving beats and urban flare to house-influenced sounds in the blink of an eye.   Be sure to catch Sassafraz for a proper show with hooks you’ll be humming later – just bring your dance shoes, as it will be hard to stand still while you catch their set.

I’ve really taken a liking to sounds The Werks put out since seeing them at All Good and spending time with them on a personal level at WerkOut and then the Baltimore and Pittsburgh shows.   These guys are top notch entertainers with personality and gusto to match their musical ability.   Norman Dimitroleas tears up the keys, Chris Houser shreds on his guitar with the best of them, Dino Dimitroleas thumps funk-heavy bass notes, popping and slapping the bass in a Claypool-esque way, and Rob Chafin on percussion and vocals laying down a foundation for them to weave in and out of.

The boys came out to a roar from the packed house in attendance at the very secure Newport Music Hall (security was a little tight) and blasted off into fan-favorite Galactic Passport and followed with an especially heady funk-anthem Burnin’ Groove.   They brought out Sassafraz’s Jack Gould for a Cloudhopper that was jazzed up nicely by the brass sounds pumped out by Gould.

Highlights of the night was a “first time played” Umphrey McGee’s Mulches Odyssey, complete with AC/DC For Whom The Bell Tolls teases, and Hard to Find, with Cincinnati guitar virtuoso John Gentry Jr. (SuperMassive, Magic Jackson) trading licks with Houser like they were playing ping-pong.  They dedicated Better Half to their tour manager and friend Donald Roof, and the crowd seemed to be moving in unison to the groove-heavy sounds they were throwing out, and finished with Onslaught.

The encore was especially memorable, with Matt Butler leading the impromptu Everyone Orchestra.  If you’ve never caught this, it’s something you cannot miss when you get the chance.   Matt Butler leads groups of musicians in a purely improvisational set of music, writing instructions for the artists and crowd to follow on a dry erase board.  At one point, he wrote the word LAUGHTER and traded turns with the artists and audience in a laugh-fest, and the words “GOODBYE 2012, HELLO 2013” on whiteboards, with the crowd singing along.  But the highlight of the evening for many was when Butler led the Everyone Orchestra with Molly Winters in The Beatles Let It Be.   It seemed the entire crowd was locked arm in arm singing the popular Beatles tune.

The entire evening was nothing short of memorable, with artists doing live painting, smiles and hugs galore for all in attendance.  It seems that The Werks are continuing their meteoric rise in popularity, and 2013 is destined to be yet another banner year for this Ohio-bred quartet.

Galactic Passport, Burnin’ Groove,* Cloudhopper,# Mulches Odyssey,$ Hard To Find, Better Half, Onslaught. E: THE EVERYONE ORCHESTRA.   * with Jack Gould on sax. # For Whom The Bell Tolls teases. $ with John Gentry on guitar. First time played