This is the second time DC ROCK LIVE has offered two perspectives on one show, the last being a Buzzcocks performance at the Black Cat with myself and Kyle Schmitt offering our views. Oddly enough John Miller was also at that show, but not part of the team then. Kyle was not here tonight, so John gets first word on the bands with myself, David Hintz, also offering up my thoughts.
New Madrid - (John Miller) Have New Madrid started? Is this just a sound check? Judging by the strained faces it’s probably a long intro. The drums kick in and it is quite the abrupt change, the delay gone, feedback gone. A mood swing would be the appropriate parallel. New Madrid is poppier, bouncer than expected, leaning on the rhythm guitar and drums. Though the solos are more reminiscent of the earlier intro; they sneak their way into the rhythm, appearing for a brief moment, before slipping away. And as they progress, a little of their Georgian roots slip through; twang here and there. To be honest, they owe a significant debt to early Kings of Leon; it took a moment to click but this has Aha Shake Heartbreak written all over it.
For as much energy as they have during the performance, they are absent between songs. While there is something to be said for brevity, the random mumbling aside, doesn't help anyone's cause. And the crowd responds in kind; short bursts of applause if any, not knowing if their effort is worth it. New Madrid may be so lost in this performance; the approval of their peers is nothing but an afterthought.
That brevity does not apply to compositions though; they are long, bordering on drawn out. The codas in particular, involve a fair amount of noodling and delay before moving on. The necessity of these eulogies is debatable though, and it might benefit New Madrid from exorcising them completely.
(David Hintz) This is my second time with Athens GA’s New Madrid and it was welcome to see them back in DC. Their songwriting is distinct and with just enough character to bring out my keen interest. They could settle for garage pop psyche style, but they add a pacey Feelies sort of guitar interplay that brightens up their approach. The music breaths and flows well. When they jam off in the distance of their song, they sound like a happy Hawkwind (although I am straining the imagination with that concept). While they did little of interest between songs as John mentioned, the overall flow kept me involved from start to finish.
All Them Witches - (John Miller) Despite the general distaste for post grunge, there are some notable performers from the era. All Them Witches is reminiscent of a couple of those acts; the more refined soft, loud aesthetic that dominated. The soft parts are good, sweep picking, the slow draw, fuzzy bass, a slight southern accent. But as the songs move to chorus; it gets a little too commercial, polished, and friendly. The vocals strain and it's the early aught's all over again.
There is no real mystery here. Unlike New Madrid before them, it is clear where All Them Witches are going and how they will be arriving. The itinerary is unwavering, no unscheduled stops at any tourist traps, they are going straight through.
The drummer though is working with what he has and not letting any uniformity hold him back. Half the time it looks like a Grand Mal back there, swinging wildly between the tom, snare, and cymbals. And occasionally that slowness returns and it's really good, that speed though just doesn't work. It's like the best parts of Hum mixed with the worst of Godsmack. The crowd seems to be enjoying it though and that's all that really matters. I'm afraid I don't get it though; to me it's all so painfully obvious. It's those damn power chords and pedestrian rhythm when things speed up. When they aren’t looking back and leaning so heavily on their influences, All Them Witches sound great. David though may have a different, more positive outlook. One with knowledgeable context that doesn't lean on limited experience.
(David Hintz) Yes, both different and positive. I took the 1990s off, so I won’t argue against your points, but it seems as I learn more of that era, that I am glad I spent that time digging deeper into the 1964-1980 musical scenes. I loved the big and bold nature of this band. There are loads of dynamics, some predictable, others not so much and their songs take on the character of a J.D. Blackfoot styled over the top theme to the more subtle approach of a Bill Callahan, were he to go much, much heavier. They remind me a lot of an alternate universe Callahan, but they also have a Scandinavian edgy progressive style in there as well. I thought I was listening to the sons of Flasket Brinner at one point. I listen to a lot of psychedelic bands of old and new and I appreciate their approach and left tonight’s show quite satisfied, even temporarily forgetting my nagging question of whether they have misappropriated Ira Levin’s ‘all OF them witches’ line from Rosemary’s Baby, or they just shortened it, or it has nothing to do with it. Fortunately with just a bit of research, I see there is already a band with the name ‘All of Them Witches’ so I can sleep more comfortably now (and the fine music I heard tonight will aid that even further).
Folkworld #58 came out in November. For over 100 album reviews done by yours truly and tons of other reviews and features by some of Europe's biggest folk fans and finest writers, have a look (either in German or English).