Men at Werk: Jamtronica's Ohio Sons Return to Cleveland for Two-Night Stand

Each time they've lit up the stage at the Beachland Ballroom, the Werks have transformed the former Croatian social hall into an intergalactic dance party. But it's been a hot minute since the electronic-heavy jam band has graced us with their sounds.

"We've been pulling back from Ohio to play all across the country," drummer and producer Rob Chafin says. In fact, he's phoning in from the desolate freeways of Kansas as the Werks wind through the Midwest after a stint in Colorado. "A lot of people were talking about how we never play Ohio. Well, we're coming back and we're gonna do two nights at the Beachland Ballroom. We're gonna make it a big deal, a big homecoming."

In its original form, the group got together at the University of Dayton. It was 2006, and Chafin recalls members from various bands at the school beginning to coalesce around the jam band format. Since then, it's been a scorching hot ascent into jam iconography. Through it all, the band's evolution has coursed through a number of line-up changes. Of the current crew, only Chafin and guitarist Chris Houser are founding members. They're joined these days by Dino Dimitrouleas on bass and Dan Shaw on keys. "Always a bunch of awesome Ohio musicians," Chafin adds.

Recently, the band toured alongside the likes of Lotus and Umphrey's McGee. They headlined a festival in Costa Rica. And they're now knee-deep in planning for their own festival, the fifth annual Werk Out, which will be held this fall in central Ohio.

Since 2012, the band has been riding high on the critical success of its self-titled album. It's the go-to source for the Werks' finest "psychedelic dance rock" to date ("Duck Farm," "O.G.," "Finding Destiny").

"Duck Farm," in particular, is a hallmark of the band's sound. Houser's major-key guitar solos simply soar alongside dazzling keyboard melodies. And when Houser reaches the climactic lyrics, "The hate is gone, there is no wrong / You are in paradise," it's a moment of pure uplift. The song is a mainstay in the band's set lists. Similarly, "Galactic Passport" shows off the band's deft abilities to merge psychedelic strings work with more modern synth beats.

Chafin says that even in just a few short years, the band has nudged all of those tunes into wildly different forms, opening the door for the organic process of maturation evident in jam band DNA. And that timescale — with respect to the band's catalog — is indicative of the Werks' broader, rapid-fire climb through regional touring circuits into the national plane of heavyweights.

They bear a certain gravity in the scene: Bands from throughout their sonic neighborhood are pulled in close. The Werk Out is the big showcase for all those relationships. Within Ohio, Papadosio is a fine example of the friendships spawned and enjoyed by the Werks. Those two bands have maintained a terrific friendship in this state and beyond. And it's pretty clear in each of those bands and others: These musicians feed off one another, and respective bands grow alongside others' evolving sounds.

The Werks are working their way through the recording process for their next album, which will surely build off the self-titled outing. Some of those new tunes have been creeping into set lists during this current tour (keep a vigilant ear out for the new ones this weekend).

And whether in the studio or onstage, it seems like the Werks will never stop moving.

Shaw (of Dan Shaw and the Organ Crusaders) began touring with the Werks in January. The Lakewood resident and keys player is looking forward to returning home for a celebratory weekend.

"When I'm back in town, I've got a lot of friends and family in the area," Shaw says. "That's really where I cut my teeth, starting to learn about music." He's been thrilled to travel the country on this current spring tour — joining the rest of the band in their own high praise of the show thus far — and he knows there's going to be something special in the air this weekend at the Beachland.

And for the band as a whole, this weekend is a jubilant nod toward their roots — geographically, sonically, personally.

"We love the Beachland. We love the Northeast Ohio music scene," Chafin says.

The Werks with Broccoli Samurai (night one) and Aliver Hall (night two), 9 p.m. Friday, April 18, and 9 p.m. Saturday, April 19. The Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $17 in advance, $20 day of show, $30 two-day pass,

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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