The Steel Woods at The Shed

It’s no small challenge when any outfit is forced to regroup following the sudden passing of one of its mainstay members. Yet that was the predicament The Steel Woods faced when its co-founder, so-songwriter and guitarist Jason Cope died suddenly this past January from complications due to diabetes. Fortunately, however, when the band performed to an appreciative crowd of approximately 500 devoted fans in Maryville, Tennessee on the first night of a two night stand, they showed the same drive and resilience that have always been their steady stock in trade.

A fiercely Southern rock band that follows in the tradition of such musical mainstays as Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet, Marshall Tucker, and the other bands that evolved out of the geographical expanse stretching between Jacksonville Florida and Macon Georgia, The Steel Wheels shared their own edgy attitude within a consistent series of stomping anthems flush with determination and defiance. They’re gruff and unrepentant, but that’s exactly what the  crowd was expecting, and the rapturous applause that greeted each of their anthems made the appreciation all the more apparent.

In truth, it seemed as if the band had hardly missed a beat. Lead singer and guitarist Wes Bayliss maintained a stoic presence throughout, with bassist Johnny Stanton and drummer Isaac Sentry making their solid rhythms a prevailing element throughout. Likewise, their new lead guitarist, Tyler Powers, provided a series of searing solos that found a concise fit within each offering.

While the 16-song set list drew from all three of their albums, it naturally put the emphasis on the band’s most recent effort, the widely-heralded All Of Your Stones. As initiated by a powerful opening trifecta consisting of “Out of the Blue,” “All of These Years” and “Better in  the Fall,” the bulk of the performance held to the same steady stomp and an equally emphatic delivery. Indeed, with most of the material propelled by the same solid tempo, a momentary ballad like “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” naturally stood out. So too, although intended or not, several  of the songs referenced Cope’s loss in one way or another. That was particularly true of the song “Ole Pal,” which found Bayliss reminiscing on times gone by. Nevertheless, it was the aforementioned opening offering, “Out of the Blue,” penned by Cope himself, that struck the most reflective tone. Given his sudden passing, it’s somewhat telling at that:

“I’ve seen red, I’ve seen white

I’ve seen death, I’ve seen life

I never saw myself coming through

I’ve finally come out of the blue, Lord

I’ve finally come out of the blue.”

Nevertheless, as evidenced in concert, The Steel Woods remain a stalwart bunch, emanating a good-ole-boys persona and down-home designs fully in keeping with their southern music heritage. That was especially apparent in their read of “Whipping Post,” which found them sharing the dry determination of the original with a driving conviction all their own.

Granted, The Steel Woods are hardly revelatory in terms of their regimen and routine, but they do offer up a rousing sound that’s ideal for a crowd ready to rally behind them. On this particular evening, the energy remained intact.