Koko, Camden Town, London
Thursday, 5th October 2017
Well, who would have thought it? A venue in Camden (just) that isn’t a toilet?! Koko is a splendid late Victorian edifice, originally opening as a theatre in 1900, and a few years later becoming a variety theatre, and one hopes, of hopefully nefarious repute. A great little place with many of its original features intact, it was full to its 1,410 capacity for tonight’s show, the audience mostly being about half my age, and at least half female, both of which makes a nice change, I can tell you!
First up was the soon to fade appeal of the feral noise made by a Texan duo calling themselves The Ghost Wolves, whom my mate Pete described as “pony”, which is doing ponies a disservice if you ask me. A kind of White Stripes in reverse led by loud’n’snotty singer/guitarist Carley “Carazy” Wolf, who played the two and a half chords she knew at volume overload and with undoubted youthful enthusiasm, but little else. The similarly daftly named drummer was, shall we say, untutored, let’s leave it at that. Lacking the tunes of The White Stripes, or the genuine menace of their obvious heroes The Cramps, they did little for me, but a fair proportion of the audience dug their unvarying racket, so good luck to them.
Ms Wolf extracting grudging singalongs from the mosh pit, and thanking the audience for coming to the show in true toe-curdling rock star fashion was rather amusing, I thought. Yes, there was a mosh pit, covering most of the stalls by the time the headliners cranked it up. This is something else rarely spotted at the kind of gigs I frequent, so it was a vibrant experience all round.
All Them Witches are based in Nashville, Tennessee, which given the mainline southern fried rock action they produce with a natural ease may sound strange given the accepted musical associations of the town, but Nashville has a thriving alt-rock scene I’m told, and All Them Witches are the current international ambassadors.
Led by bassist and singer Charles Michael Parks Jr. (just how American is that name, eh?), who has a penchant for playing fuzzed chords on his bass thus adding to the general louche nature of this fine band’s elemental swagger, and powered along by the formidable beats of drummer Robby Staebler, All Them Witches are a veritable rock’n’roll powerhouse. Chanelling the southern rock tradition via Sabs weight and Zep cool into the modern age, this band are what rock music needs in its apparent dotage, and their comparative youthful enthusiasm is mirrored in the audience they attract, present company excepted, of course!
All Them Witches have only been in existence since 2012, so they have a small but perfectly formed back catalogue from which to assemble their set, although it was surprising that only about half of their latest and most glorious Sleeping Through The War album was played. The plus side of that is that it piqued my interest in the back pages, me being a late comer to the coven.
Opening with a track from 2015 EP A Sweet Release, Howdy Hoodee Slank is not the most obvious show opener, being a slow grungy stomp that serves the purpose of lowering us into the gumbo stew, a slow and sizzling introduction into the broiling cauldron of All Them Witches. This, and a fair few other songs were new to me, but some of the older songs I knew, and the monster riff that drives When God Comes Back soon had almost the entire lower deck moshing with gleeful abandon. Being of senior age, me and my mate had sensibly taken a vantage point in the balcony where we could observe the rock’n’roll rites unfolding before us in time-honoured fashion, bopping along sagely as wise old heads do.
The combination of Allan Van Cleave’s keyboards, mostly electric piano, and Ben McLeod’s riffing and licks made for a top line that fizzed with a primal electricity, topped off by Charles’ southern drawl adding the necessary amount of rock’n’roll mystique for the many hundreds of pairs of eager Anglo ears present. The wonderful swampy blooze of Elk.Blood.Heart brought things down, giving the moshers time to breathe in, and find their shoes. Led by Allan’s sonorous electric piano, and lumbering along like a rolling juggernaut, this is the kind of tune an English band just couldn’t write any more, at least not since John Paul Jones was doing his electric piano thing with Zep, that is.
The band took the opportunity to stretch out on a truncated version of Internet – no harmonica tonight – that segued into Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters by way of a full-on instrumental freak out of southern boogie proportions, the whole two/three song sequence lasting some fifteen or more glorious minutes. They describe themselves on their Facebook page as “sweaty beats and dope riffs” and this jam was the sort of thing to get monged to, no question, while concurrently working up a bit of a lather. Bloody marvellous!
Following that were three songs from the latest album, including the insidious earworm of Alabaster, a tune that has been going round and round in my head ever since. There’s worse things to be plagued by for sure, and this creepy circular melody over which Charles gets highly strung out on his highly cryptic “identity” lyric, all interspersed with a riff to die for, hit the spot, oh yes!
I’m glad I caught this fine band when I did, as they have gone from playing back rooms in pubs to filling near-1,500 capacity venues in five years, so next time round the venue might not be as intimate as this splendid theatre. Get to see them as soon as you can, is my advice!
Apologies for the crap picture!
Howdy Hoodee Slank
When God Comes Back
The Death of Coyote Woman
Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters
Am I Going Up?
Swallowed by the Sea
All Them Witches:
Charles Michael Parks Jr – Bass Guitar, Vocals
Robby Staebler – Drums
Ben McLeod – Guitars
Allan Van Cleave – Keyboards
The Ghost Wolves:
Carley “Carazy” Wolf – Guitar & Vocals
Jonathan “Little Hammer” Wolf – Drums & Vocals