For the majority of rock bands, the prospect of recording an album’s worth of new material at a live show would be a bit terrifying. For the instrumental prog-fusion band Woodenhead, it’s just virtuosity as usual. Now in its forty-third year, the band doesn’t put out new music very often: The last new album, Perseverance, was back in 2003 (an archival set at Tipitina’s, from 10 years earlier, was released more recently). But on June 15 and 16, they’ll be recording 15 new songs in front of an audience at Chickie Wah Wah, and releasing it (under the auspices of the Threadhead Cultural Foundation) by the end of the year.
The band—guitarist Jimmy Robinson, keyboardist Fran Comiskey, drummer Mark Whitaker and bassist Paul Clement—actually welcomes the chance to work without a net. Unlike their 40th anniversary show at Tip’s, which had a handful of guests, this show will feature the straight-up quartet.
“We’ll be playing a lot of the same material over two nights—so if you add it all up, instead of everybody going into the studio and arguing for two months, it really comes out ahead,” Robinson said. “We’ve been known to beat things to death, destroying good recordings by spending years on them.” Putting out the Tipitina’s set—which included much livelier versions of songs they’d done in the studio—helped inspire this project. “We still have the two days to come in and do fixes, in case there’s any big clams. But we’re going to keep it as live as we can and get the live energy in there. We have a great live engineer, Steve Daffner, who’s done a few successful projects. And we want to get some good audience mikes as well. We’ll be doing two sets a night, so people will have the chance to scream ‘Free Bird’ twice.”
Some of the new songs should be familiar to anyone who’s seen the band in recent years. Comiskey just toured Brazil with Patrice Fisher’s group, and her song “Mosaico” incorporates that influence. And Robinson has a batch of tunes including the crunching, King Crimson-esque “Hell Boy,” which got its title when actor Ron Perlman caught their set at Checkpoint Charlie.
And yes, they do plan to fit 15-odd songs on a single CD, which might have been unthinkable for Woodenhead 20 years ago. “We’ve been rehearsing the songs and cutting back a little on solo length. Bands like us have the tendency to do eight-minute songs, but we’re scaling back just a little on that.”