“There ain’t no saints allowed in here,” informed All Them Witches bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr. between songs in response to some half-heard banter from the crowd, who were referencing Anchorman. “If you’re a saint, you have to leave.”
Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, is a cool little town. And I’m not condescending; that’s what it is. A little town. It’s not a big place in the center, though homes range out into the hills around — my father lived there years ago — but there are bars and restaurants and in the vein of a lot of post-industrial centers, it’s been the artists left to revive it. When I parked, a folk duo were playing on a stage in an alleyway nearby. I hit Main St. Jukebox before heading over to see All Them Witches, King Buffalo and King Dead at the Sherman Theater Living Room, and was thrilled to find a CD copy of Demon Fuzz‘s Afreaka (the YouTube of which I’m just going to link here because that’s how much I think you should hear it). The venue was right down the road, and when I got to The Living Room, I found All Them Witches drummer Robby Staebler climbing a tree outside.
That’s something he’s licensed to do, and he had a harness on and whatnot, but clearly I was early. King Dead would start the show in about an hour, the local bass/bass/drum trio playing tracks off their debut demo (track stream here), which also happened to be recorded in that room. They were in their element, and cuts like “Length of Rope” and the particularly notable “God Makes a Lot of Fucking Promises” stood out well, the arrangement of the area of the floor on which they played such that they were almost sideways to the back of the venue. Well-worn easychairs and loveseats lined the other side, and were put to use, and all three bands played in front of local art. King Dead‘s atmospheric explorations carried through four-stringer Kevin Vanderhoof, six-stringer Will McGrath and drummer Steve Truglio to a crowd familiar with what they do, and despite a false start early on, they gave a solid showing as the audience started to trickle in.
People would continue to show up throughout the night. Next door, at the Sherman Theater proper, there was a metal show, so some spilled over from that to mix with those who’d actually come to see these bands. King Dead were a switched-on start, and after a short break so cameras could be set up to film the next two acts for Truglio‘s “My Show” web series, Rochester, NY’s King Buffalo rolled out spacious heaviness backed by flashing rope lights around their amps, playing not only the three tracks from their 2013 debut demo (review here) – “Pocket Full of Knife,” “In Dim Light” and the sprawling jam “Providence Eye” — but more from their impending STB Records debut LP, which should be out next year. Bassist Dan Reynolds had on an STB shirt, and as on the recording, he subtly loosed low-end righteousness in form and tone throughout the duration, giving sunglass’ed guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay room to trip out in his solos and a moving foundation for drummer/vocalist Scott Donaldson to match pace. They’re a relatively new trio, and McVay, suffering a migraine, had a garbage can next to him while he played as a precaution for nausea, but god damn did they kill.
I was a fan as well of Donaldson‘s prior outfit, the now-defunct Velvet Elvis, but King Buffalo tap into prime heavy psych fluidity while keeping enough of a base in classic rock songwriting to still have structures to work around. They were exciting to watch, in their individual play and together, and I felt more than somewhat vindicated in how much I’d been looking forward to seeing them. With more than a touch of blues as well, they were also an exceptional match and lead-in for Nashville’s All Them Witches, who would follow shortly, setting up a visually impressive Fender Rhodes for Allan Van Cleave to go with Parks‘ bass, Staebler‘s drums and Ben McLeod‘s guitar, which even from back in the corner of the room, was plenty loud enough to make an impression. I knew going into the night that I was going to see something special — this band at this moment — and I don’t want to oversell it, but something special was precisely what I got.
Most of what they played was recognizable from their soon-to-be-properly-issued sophomore full-length, Lightning at the Door (discussed here), including the opener “Funeral for a Great
Drunken Bird,” which immediately distinguished Van Cleave‘s contributions to the richness of All Them Witches‘ sound in a way I hadn’t previously appreciated. Don’t get me wrong, all four players are essential to what the band does, whether it’s McLeod‘s slide work, Staebler‘s percussive swing — his drums out flat in front of him, almost like little tables he gets to smash, with minimal cymbal accompaniment — or Parks‘ deep tone and psych-blues echo vocals, but I guess just listening to Lightning at the Door and the preceding Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t understand the dynamic as well as I did actually watching them play “The Marriage of Coyote Woman,” a wide-open highlight of the evening along with the chugging “Swallowed by the Sea” and “Mountain,” the album’s alternately contemplative and riotous closer.
It was “Charles William” that finished out All Them Witches‘ set, and I don’t think I could’ve asked more from it than was delivered, the crashing apex and bounce of the thing infectious enough that it would remain stuck in my head the rest of the night. Parks‘ vocals, less compressed live, were all the more engaging — one can hear the soul and frontman’s confidence beginning to surface there — and the noise that capped was well earned and more than justified. To get to the point, I was really fucking glad to have been there to see it.
It was about five hours of road time for me to get to this show, so I feel somewhat compelled to explain why I was there. Both King Buffalo and All Them Witches were bands I knew I wanted to see this year. I could’ve waited. All Them Witches are touring with Windhand next month and coming much closer to where I live than Stroudsburg, and I’m sure I’d catch up with King Buffalo sooner or later, but I felt like this was the right show at the right time in the right place, all the more with King Dead opening, so I had to make the trip. To get to see King Buffalo and All Them Witches together, it just seemed like a chance to experience a moment before it was gone, and I knew it was one I wanted to witness. Not to toot my own horn or call myself Captain Foresight or anything, but I was absolutely right in that decision. Well worth the trip and then some.
Owing to a complicated scenario of mutual plans not really worth going into, I met The Patient Mrs. in New Jersey after the show. King Dead rounded out the night at The Living Room with a second set jamming out, but I knew I had a drive ahead, so I picked up The Patient Mrs. and we made our way back north into Connecticut, arriving at three in the morning to crash out and pick up in the morning back to Massachusetts. Sleep would play the next night in Boston, and much like this gig, I knew there was no way I was going to miss it.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.