All Them Witches is one of those bands where people who love them love them. Even the security staff outside were excited about this show. “I love those guys. And they’ve got great merch in there. I’m going to use my break to check it out.” She was right—they did. The artwork comes from drummer Robby Staebler, whose designs range from abstract to discrete but almost always feature some depiction of a skull, reflecting the band’s fascination with liminal spaces, the concrete and the metaphysical. And though the St. Louis show did not sell out, as several other locations had, Delmar Hall was comfortably packed with all the fans who were thankful to see a St. Louis stop on their tour.
The set opened with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” played over the sound system. While it probably wouldn’t have been the best use of our already-tight time with the band (more on that later), I was all geared up for a start-to-finish singalong. And though our spirited rendition was cut off just before the chorus, the setlist that followed sampled heavily from their Sleeping Through the War album. Since St. Louis was the first stop on the tour, you’d probably have to ask the band if that lineup was the original vision for their setlist or adjusted in response to the current Russian assault on Ukrainian democracy. Either way, the result noticeably put the focus on the evils of greed and power.
It’s easy to see why All Them Witches has such an enthusiastic fanbase, evident in the unison swaying across the floor in time with every movement in the music. An absence of pretense and earnest delivery result in a powerfully emotive sound. There is no flash or flair to their appearance. No repping of brands, little repping of other bands. No hairstyles or accessories. All denim and black with an occasional stocking cap, patterned guitar strap, and Grateful Dead sticker. The overall effect was like a glimpse into someone’s journal ruminations. Not so much a diary, but reflections on the big questions around darkness, beauty, temporality, and purpose.
The band members hail from an array of locales, but their sound is distinctly bluesy, Southern psychedelic rock. Vocalist and bassist Charles Michael Parks Jr. delivers his musings in a low, mournful voice, sometimes snarling through gritted teeth. When he repeats “I am focused | Iron focus” in “3-5-7,” you can both hear and see the intensity being channeled. At other times, vocals are punctuated with a genuine, take-a-step-back shout, letting his pipes do the work. On bass, he was similarly understated but powerful, calm but driving in the stomping. Behind the drums, Staebler’s arms formed a perfectly angular diamond rolling like thunder across the kit for the tense “Charles William.” Adding levity to the mix was guitarist Ben McLeod, whose ambling jams and intensely spacey runs harkened legendary ‘70s monsters like The Wall-era Pink Floyd on “Am I Going Up” and Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” on “When God Comes Back.” I’m betting that was his Dead skull on the amp.
If I hadn’t noticed before what a contribution the keys make to the richness of their sound, standing in front of returned-keyboard player Allan Van Cleave made that perfectly clear, especially on “Alabaster.” With his return, he brought an electric violin, which I adore. While it integrated nicely into songs like “Diamond,” it really shone as a trippy addition to the “The Children of Coyote Woman” intro. Played as a follow-up to the achingly beautiful “Everest,” Parks then decided they had played enough of the pretty music. He declared, “This is a rock show!” and dove right back into the roar and growl of their grittier songs.
In a true spirit of rock ‘n roll, the band apparently broke the time limit rules enforced by Delmar Hall. After closing with “Blood and Sand/Milk and Endless Waters,” the lights came on and the house music… continued? It seems the band had overextended their set, so when the amps were shut off it became clear the background noise was not someone’s ringtone, it was the audio cue from the venue to wrap-it-up. I sure hope there were no hard feelings from either party, because this venue was the perfect size for both the sound and the adoring crowd. They started precisely on time and shared with us 93 minutes of gratifying, thoughtful, soulful compositions. Judging from the fanbase, the following will only grow with time. | Courtney Dowdall