Nashville’s All Them Witches rolled through the Red Room Wednesday night at the Crystal Bay Casino and played a pummeling show and its repercussions will hopefully be felt for years to come.
The bands that come to Tahoe usually fall into four categories: funk, jam, bluegrass and EDM. If you can’t come out and stir up a crowd with some dancing music you are not going to be gracing many stages in the basin. While it certainly is a vital and vibrant scene, it does not welcome many bands outside of those four fairly limiting genres, which contributes to a lot of really great bands skipping over Tahoe on their way to or from San Francisco and Los Angeles.
That is why it was a great shock to see a band like All Them Witches scheduled to play in the Red Room. Charles Michael Parks Jr. (vocals/bass/guitar), Ben McLeod (guitar), Allan Van Cleave (keys) and Robby Staebler (drums) make brooding, enchanted music that emerges from the dark woods ready to lay waste to your senses with gnarled riffs; hardly the soundtrack for shaking hips. The band is currently touring behind its latest album “Dying Surfer Meets His Maker,” which showcases All Them Witches’ talent for crafting songs that deal in tones of scorched granite and bruised peppercorn. They are not the first or hundredth band you would think of to play in Tahoe, which is why it was even more paramount to jump on the opportunity to see them.
Because of the low profile of a band like All Them Witches has in a place like Tahoe, it was very surprising and encouraging to see a solid crowd of people gathered in the Red Room to catch this rare show. In addition to the main event, the crowd was treated to a pounding opening set by LA Witch. Irita Pai (bass), Ellie English (frums) and Sade Sanchez (vocals/guitar) were a mangled ball of garage blues and punk that seemed to encapsulate some of the desert emptiness of Los Angeles. Sanchez’s guitar hooks sat there like rusted bits of rebar as Pai and English filled in around her with bubbling bass lines and bare-bones drumming. The trio’s musical aesthetic was the perfect primer for All Them Witches to blow open the night.
After all four members of All Them Witches unceremoniously found themselves behind their instruments to start their set, Staebler banged out the hollow opening measures of “Mountain” on his skins as the rest of his cohorts slowly bled onto the beat. Parks’ warm voice wafted over McLeod’s slide work in the song’s bluesy mist before Mcleod tore the sky open with a big, crunchy riff that propelled the band to reach the exasperated finale. And just like that the crowd had been blessed by the Witches’ black mysticism.
To be certain, All Them Witches is a captivating band live. It is making truly intriguing music that you can’t quite put your finger on and from which you can’t turn away. There are haunting hints of blues, prog-metal, 1970s hard rock and psychedelia and post-rock, all tied together with a strong melodic undercurrent. All these elements have settled so well together, as if the band had mixed them and then sifted through them with a giant sifter until there was a nothing but a fine, rich soil. When that music barrels out of the speakers, it is entirely its own entity.
The menacing groove of “Charles William” was equal parts twisted blues and inescapable rhythm, owed to McLeod’s deft slide and Staebler’s unrelenting beat, which was given an even greater complexity by Parks’ hallowed delivery. At points, it sounded like Parks was fronting the heaviest soul band on the earth. The band’s fluidity was further showcased on “Talisman” as it twisted around Parks’ soaring vocals and his guitar interplay with McLeod, ascending upward in dramatic fashion. As the melody could reach no higher peak, the band turned and dove into the multi-part epic “Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters” that seethed with murky blues intensity.
The band paired its mystifying musicianship with a similar presence onstage that only amplified its magic. Parks was entrancing in the way he connected his voice with his songs, his soothing baritone emanating out of him like a spirit as he rocked side to side with his eyes closed. If he was the soul of the band, Staebler was the uncompromising heart of it. He towered over his kit even as he was scrunched behind it, looking like a caged beast raging on the drums. He was maniacal in his feverish fills and rolls, especially on the battering rhythm of “When God Comes Back,” and he had a real visceral intensity behind his playing.
The room felt electric after All Them Witches left the stage to a warm reception from the crowd. As they had certainly done before in towns and cities across the country they left another group of people wide-eyed and gaping about what they had just heard and experienced. Surely, not everyone there had come to see All Them Witches specifically; the attraction of free music certainly carried weight for some of the audience. But the crowd really embraced the band and, hopefully, people broadened their musical range and interest. And that is what Tahoe needs, to open its mind a little more to kick ass bands with different musical possiblities. Wednesday night was an encouraging step toward that reality.