All Them Witches–Live at the EARL

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An end of the year find in 2015 was a CD by All Them Witches called Dying Surfer Meets His Maker.  It satisfied a music itch because it rocked hard, had a certain Led Zep aspect, and rose above competitors for its musical imagination, aggressiveness, sonic mixture, and at least somewhat interesting lyrics as far as obtuse mysticism goes.  Overall, it sounded good, and I was eager to finally see them in concert.  And, they were good enough that I persuaded my son to buy me a $12 ticket as a birthday present and tag along on a work night.  My overall impression was that this band has what it takes to continue making some really fine music.  It begins with lead singer and bassist/guitarist Michael Parks – great voice, appreciative manner, and he plays a bass that doesn’t just keep a rhythm but at times propels the music in interesting ways.

For all of the heavy licks, I would have expected their guitarist to wear the black T-shirts, long hair and whiskered faces of so many of their assembled fans.  Ben McLeod instead is fairly static, clean cut, and seems just as happy to play to the drummer as the audience.  Still, his sound is key to the band, at times backing off to give Parks vocal space, and at times splitting the ear drums.

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Drummers sometimes keep a beat.  Sometimes they’re clever.  Rarely do they possess their kit.  It’s a small set, but drummer Robby Staebler does just that.  And, apparently trim drummers who go shirtless are babe magnets.  He had his fans attention…

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Their secret weapon is keyboardist Allan Van Cleave. Even when the band is playing a heavy hand, the keyboards are glue.  And when they get into extended jazzier moments, he sets the tone.

The band has two full length albums, and they played essentially all of their better songs.  The only thing missing was the harmonica from their recorded sound.  They also played two songs, one of which sounded good and the other, something about coffee, was a disappointing throw-away rocker, kind of surprising given the care given the rest of their songs.  The crowd was perhaps 150, pretty good for the middle of the week, and a visit to the East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge is always fun, if just for the name (not the smoking bar area).  In any case, no disappointments here – the band could have been pretentious, but they seemed to enjoy the music they’re making and, when they stretched a couple of songs for a jam, appear to find satisfaction in what they hear from the others.  Without any single one of them, the band would be significantly less.

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Favorites: “Talisman,” “Blood and Sand,” “Dirt Preachers,” Open Passageways” – I have yet to settle in on their earlier CD, which I, of course, bought.  It has its highlights, but not as many as Surfer.

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