LIVE: All Them Witches – Sound Control, Manchester 01/10/2017
There’s plenty of competition in town tonight, with Deadbolt Festival well underway a few doors down, Fresher’s Week in full swing and the Tory Party Conference up the road attracting a few, shall we say, ‘lively’ debates. Despite the pull of Boris et al, it’s obvious that the real hot ticket in town is at Sound Control to witness the return to these shores of Nashville’s All Them Witches.
Supporting All Them Witches across their whole European tour are The Ghost Wolves and the Texan duo waste little time in pummelling the crowd with a riotous racket. One part Ramones to two parts each Debbie Harry and The White Stripes, guitarist/vocalist Carley and drummer Jonny lay down a bluesy, feral soundtrack which comes as a bit of a shock to a chilled Sunday night psych-expectant crowd.
Eventually the room fills to witness a truly dichotomous performance as Carley switches from sweetness and tassels to furious single-string gymnastics, and she’s got the crowd eating out of her hand by the time she leads them in a ‘raised by the devil’ response to her ‘Grandma’s’ severed head (a wolf mask atop a mic stand). It’s all very chaotic, and there are some decent songs underlying the madness, but now and again you feel the band need to bring some structure more to the fore to get heads nodding.
As the walls start to get sticky and War Pigs rumbles out through the PA, you know it’s almost the Witching hour, and when the four-piece emerge, they’re welcomed rapturously. It’s a brave move opening your set with a 12-minute instrumental after an eight minute intro song, but if anyone can hold attention it’s this lot, and in grooving through the Sabbath song’s long lost brother, Howdy Hoodee Slank, All Them Witches do just that.
A heavier proposition live than on record, it’s during When God Comes Back that it really hits you how destructive the band can be. They’re certainly no slouches on any of their four studio albums, but up on stage, Charles Michael Parks Jr’s bass has that extra rumble and Ben McLeod’s normally surreal and trippy riffs become mind-melting. The Death Of Coyote Woman owes a lot to Kyuss, but it’s still very much classic All Them Witches, as Robby Staebler’s drumming acts as the nucleus that pulls everything back together after each and every one of the band’s trademark meanders.
He may be slightly hidden away at the side of the stage, but Allan Van Cleave is also absolutely vital, adding layers of intriguingly intricate keys especially during a mesmerising Talisman, and although relatively short on banter, Parks Jr, bedecked in Boy Scout shorts and shirt is still beaming between songs, introducing the sprawling jam of Internet as “another song about being alive”. Pretty apt when All Them Witches’ show tonight feels so organic, each crushing riff or instrumental interlude creating its own story. It might be a challenging show at times, especially when Blood and Sand/Milk and Endless Waters follows so soon after Internet to create a 20 minute mega-dirge, and it’s a shame (and a little odd) that the band’s latest release Sleeping Through The War isn’t the main focus of tonight’s setlist. But even the band’s older material given an outing tonight is only five years old and a raucous Bulls and Alabaster restore some parity, showcasing the band’s ability to construct more direct, perhaps more traditional songs in recent times.
Closing out with a Mark Lanegan-infused Am I Going Up?, and a surprise encore of Mountain, All Them Witches certainly deliver an intense show for which you’ll need to be in the right frame of mind, but if you want to see a group of hugely talented musicians create an innovative and hypnotic experience, then you should definitely be getting involved in a date on the rest of this tour.