All Them Witches:
Saturday May 7, 2022
My chucks stick to the floor as I walk into the narrow venue, its walls a saturated black, a small stage to one end, the bar to the other. I make a crack that I feel like Atreyu trying to escape the swamp. Each step takes effort. With all of the drinks that slosh over the brim of their glasses through the course of the evening, it’s a theme that persists into the night. The crowd is thick, so we find a spot in a small nook in front of the sound booth.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, isn’t on the well-worn trail we tread for concerts: the path from Philly to D.C. where you can find any band at some point of their tour. It’s somewhat of a novelty to be in a venue with a 500 person occupancy, and I find myself anticipating the intimacy it affords a crowd to be so close to the performance. There’s a sort of electric current crackling through the people piled into the club. It’s the same anticipation I’m feeling. We’re all taking that last deep breath and waiting to exhale when the lights dim and a voice leaves the stage, jolting through us across that same electric network that’s binding us all together. We exhale.
The sound is crisp. the vocals clean, despite it being a small hall. The music bounces from wall to wall, absorbing into our skin. Every note is authentic and feels raw and real, something I haven’t felt in a show since emerging from my Covid cocoon. I’m home.
Staebler leans his weight into his drums with every beat, his performance almost tribal–an aboriginal dance. In each riff from McLeod, there are heavy undertones of The Allman Brothers meets bluegrass, meets folk rock. He’s precise–techinical–but it’s as natural as breathing, and you find yourself listening to his guitar as if it’s speaking to you. With Van Cleave back on the violin and keyboard, it brings a welcomed harmony–a balance. It’s that missing piece that locks their well-rounded sound into place. Each time he chimes in, it’s like someone is reminding you of a good part of a story that’s been left out. Things feel fuller. Topped off with Parks on vocals with his steady haunting hum–his voice akin to the pull of a bow across the strings of a cello–their sound combines into something almost otherworldly.
They draw you in, the music pulling you closer to the stage like a siren song. There’s no better example of this than the hush that falls over the crowd as Parks takes up his acoustic guitar, and along with Van Cleave, tells the story of Romulus and Remus to a group of wide-eyed listeners. We’re entranced.
Each song has its own ebb and flow and builds like a summer storm forming over the ocean. They get into a groove, taking you along with them as they dig into their stoner rock roots with drawn out jam sessions that lead into the heavy crash of the hard-hitting lines that cling to your bones. “It’s something of charm to have nothing to say.” Then the bass takes over and pulls you under its unrelenting wave. You’re drowning in the music and you don’t want to resurface.
We reach the last song, and there’s a tangible loss that fills the room. No on is ready for this to end. Just ten more minutes, we all think, and the band placates us by reappearing once more. We’re all grateful for one last taste of the ambrosia of the gods. Every song has sliced through us, reminding us what live music is supposed to be; it’s left its mark.
I’ve seen a lot of bands from a lot of genres in small venues and large. Some sell the light show, some push controversy. Some just give themselves, pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into each note. You know when it’s real, when it’s right. All Them Witches is without a doubt the real McCoy, and part of me will be sad when the rest of the world catches on, because for one night, a small crowd in a cramped bar had them all to ourselves.
And everything was right.