All Them Witches’ Smoke-Filled Lincoln Hall Seance
I knew I was in for a wild, primal evening of music at Lincoln Hall for the second night of Tomorrow Never Knows. With a name like All Them Witches and an admitted fascination with mysticism, wandering, and psychedelic blues, how was it even possible that the Nashville foursome wouldn’t transport me to some strange, alternate dimension?
Things got started with Ranch Ghost, also from Nashville, a five-piece that fully encompassed its name. The “ranch” aspect manifested itself in a stoned Western bliss that pervaded their whole set. Joshua Meadors strummed and sang with his eyes closed, his head somewhere off in the fields of Texas or Mississippi, while his artsy-hobo-aesthetic bandmates (seriously, lead guitarist Andy Ferro had written “GRETSCH” on a piece of paper and taped it to his headstock) filled the room with grand, spacious sound. The “ghost” aspect, on the other hand, stemmed from the undoubtedly trippy overtones of the ’60s weaved into the sonic tapestry. The warbling keys, played by a warbling keyboardist who looked to be hypnotized, were vital in producing the density of Ranch Ghost’s music. Even a song like “Black Caboose,” on its surface a neo surf-rock ditty sung by Ferro, took on shades of ethereal haze. It got so intensely other-worldly that bass player Matthew Sharer broke a goddamn string.
The Honorary Miley Cyrus Would I “See You Again” Scale: Yeah, sure. Thumb held up approx. 20 degrees above horizontal.
Next, Old Baby took the stage, and baby, did they look old. Not age-wise; I’m talking worldly wise, world-beaten, congregation of veteran travelers brought together by some adventures you wouldn’t believe even if they told you. None of them had traveled more than guitarist/lead singer Jonathan Wood, who sported the following items of clothing: Cossack fur cap, Native American-looking woven shirt, pantaloons, leg warmers. His ancient influence shone clearly through on a dimly-lit stage, the drums backing him with a tribal, ritualistic rhythm as he half-sang, half-droned his way through the peyote-laced early parts of the set. As things progressed, the powers of his fellow guitarist Evan Patterson–who looked like Christian Bale playing a business casual, devil-inhabited blues devotee–grew, culminating in a few sharp-edged solos that slashed through the cosmic lo-fi vibe. On the whole, the band reminded me of a version of The Doors minus Jim Morrison’s cutting poetry and with the addition of multiple synth layers and more overt opiate energy.
The Honorary Miley Cyrus Would I “See You Again” Scale: Nice psych-blues and I dig their clothes. Thumb held up approx. 15 degrees above horizontal.
Finally, I fell under the spell of All Them Witches. I had been waiting for this moment for months, since I first got a taste of them in Nashville, and my body was ready for the sorcery to come.
The set began with the hypnotic guitar riff of “Call Me Star,” the lead track off the band’s newest album, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. Michael Parks built in his vocal slowly, making the titular request before the song blossomed into a surreal dream-Western landscape of heroic proportions. Parks’ command of the crowd was reminiscent of a pagan priest, his head bowed over the microphone, praying to the spirit of the music and ensnaring his audience in soul movements. One doesn’t “dance” to All Them Witches’ music, at least not in a traditional sense; rather, I and the other inhabitants of Lincoln Hall bobbed our heads, then our necks, then the vast majority of our bodies to the various beats of life energy exuded by the band.
There were certain periods of peak intensity, expertly crafted by Parks and his bandmates. A long, drawn-out, abrupt pause in “Charles William” had us leaning forward, waiting for the resumption as the frontman took a slow, cavalier sip from his water bottle before launching back into the frenetic music. The intensity of his vocal delivery in “When God Comes Back” was only matched by the violence of the infectious blues riff that followed. And he and McLeod carefully built “Blood and Sand” into the dramatic final steps of a hero’s journey that we, the engaged audience, had completed with them.
The lynchpin of All Them Witches’ sound, despite the technical prowess of McLeod and the magnetic, religious presence of Parks, was keyboardist Allan Van Cleave. He sat calmly at the side of the stage, twiddling knobs on his vast instrument (wooden, the antithesis of the sleek, modern, tiny synths that dominate indie rock), and flashing through improvised solos with barely any emotion registering upon his face. The deep bass tones he produced laid a solid foundation whenever Parks would swap his usual four strings for six, and the Supertramp-esque distortion added to the haze of smoke that literally encompassed him–its source was a fog machine near his feet. Drummer Robby Staebler completed the setup with manic eyes and more manic rhythm, his dreadlocks bouncing in time as he pounded his kit like a man who had left his voice in the beyond and was forced to communicate his amazement with snare and toms and cymbals.
One thought that repeatedly wormed its way into my mind as I took in the performance: why isn’t All Them Witches playing jam festivals with ten thousand stoned kids taking part in the ceremony? Their music is vast, almost too vast for Lincoln Hall–it needs to communicate with the open night sky. Rest assured, though, as their profile continues to grow and they continue to enrapture audiences, those opportunities will come.
The Honorary Miley Cyrus Would I “See You Again” Scale: Hell yes. Thumb held up approx. 75 degrees above horizontal.