A confession: after a break around the turn of the millennium, I’ve been reviewing for almost 10 years straight now, and gig-going for over 25. During that time, I’ve been to more venues than I could ever count, and am extremely accustomed to going to shows on my own. And yet I still get anxious about going to new venues on my own, and fret about whether or not my name will be on the list when I present at the door. For some inexplicable reason, this is my first visit to the Wardrobe, and I’m anxietising all over the place as I map app my way there in a particularly chilly September squall.
Another confession: I had never heard of All Them Witches before the tour dates landed in my inbox, and I still hadn’t heard a note in advance of the show. I’m admitting this largely because reviewers have a habit of making like they know every song by every band ever, and have a detailed knowledge of their history. It’s patently untrue, but we do love to perpetuate our own myths and make like we have a certain superiority, even if it’s often born out of a deep-seated insecurity. But I was sold on the pitch, and besides, I figure it’s important to remain open-minded while testing one’s critical faculties instead of playing it safe by only going to see bands you like.
As a venue, The Wardrobe is rather nicely laid out, with good sight-lines all round. And while the beer isn’t the cheapest, they have a decent selection, and finding cans of Roosters’ Baby Faced Assassin and a range of Magic Rock brews definitely added plus points for return trips.
Support came in the form of Texan two-piece Ghost Wolves, with the now popular iteration of guitar and drums blasting out raucous country with attitude and significant volume. Drummer Jonathan ‘Little Hammer’ Wolf sports a shirt with no sleeves and a monster quiff, and drives a set dominated by hard-edged rockabilly grooves. Carley ‘Carazy’ Wolf has some serious presence, and manages to kick out an attacking guitar buzz while brandishing a beaten-up axe with just one string. Not only do they rock hard, but they put on a show, and even manage to get some audience participation going. It’s no mean feat for a support act playing to a midweek audience on a dismal night.
With ‘War Pigs’ playing as an intro tape (ok, it’s not really a tape any more, and this fact, as much as the dominant demographic of tonight’s audience, remind me once more of my age), All Them Witches walk on stage an immediately bring the riffs with ‘Howdy Hoodee Slank’ from 2015’s Sweet Release EP (see, a little research goes a long way).
They play with a potent sonic density, the nostril-shaking volume being as integral to the experience as the spiralling synths and the endless depth pf reverb which envelops the vocals. The rhythm section is truly thunderous, and while nothing they do could ever be described as innovative, or even hooky, ATW have some serious balls and everything about the performance is so well executed that criticism seems curmudgeonly.
That said, things do get a bit 80s Pink Floyd in places, and the way the keyboard lean so heavily on The Doors becomes a shade predictable over the course of the set, but then again, they bring a real range of texture, tone, and tempo, which makes for a dynamic and engaging set and the heavy psych wig-outs where the guitars dominate are truly exciting. ‘Charles William’ brings the heavy riff-centric groove, delivered with a swagger and a stance that’s equal parts nonchalance and passion, and it works.