The Revivalists, in town in support of their new album Men Amongst Mountains, played Wednesday and Thursday night to sold-old audiences. Playing most of the songs from the new album, though many weren’t new as they’ve been weaving them into their shows for the past two years, they still made time for their big crowd pleasers.
The first night at The Bowery Ballroom, the crowd roared to attention as the band trickled on stage, leaving the center mic empty, and began Stand Up; then lead singer David Shaw bounded on stage immediately signaling that this would be the usual high-energy, crowd-engaging show. Not at all constrained by the smaller than usual stage, or his other six bandmates and their rigs, he strutted from left to right, back and forth, crouching at the end of the stage to sing as the throngs crowded around him, sidling up to other band members, and even wandering into the crowd to sing and dance along with the fans.
At first the set seemed to be entirely comprised of songs from the new album, reasonable as it was a CD release show. But then they launched into Criminal, with Shaw changing the standard refrain to “This is New York, we do this tomorrow and today” and from there on sprinkled in the older songs.
The new songs gave more opportunity for some of the other players, particularly the horns, to express themselves in fresh ways. Sax player, backing vocalist and dancing fool Rob Ingraham (who sings every word regardless of whether he’s at the mic) put the jazz in his plentiful solos. Guitarist Zack Feinberg had a new toy – a red Bohemian Motor Oil can body guitar, which he pulled out for Chasing Fireflies. And when they stretched Concrete, from their first EP, it allowed each player to solo.
The band was better lit and the stage was much less deep than usual, allowing better viewing of the “guys in the back” — bassist George Gekas, drummer Andrew Campanelli and keyboardist and trumpeter Michael Girardot. Girardot in particular is a fave, and if you can take your eyes off Shaw you’ll see Girardot’s pure pleasure in the music and the stage as he dances, spins, kicks, grins, climbs the amps (and jumps off) while still providing steady chords, back-up vocals, and trumpet solos.
The sound up front suffered, particularly the vocals, but with Shaw working the crowd — fist bumping you, crooning into your ear, ruffling your hair and jumping off the stage to dance, and pedal steel guitarist Ed Williams leaning his pedal steel into your face and cranking it, it’s easy to choose to stay up front with the adoring fans singing word-for-word with both the old and new songs.
After climaxing with Catching Fireflies from their first full-length album Vital Signs, a classic that starts off like a ballad and ends with the entire crowd screaming “One More Shot Babe”, they left the stage for the classic non-tension game of “Will they play an encore?” But as we wondered had they picked a new song to cover (recent past ones are Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls on Parade), keyboard/trumpeter Girardot walked back on stage, flipped on his keyboard light and hit a few chords; Shaw then joined him in a duet of the CD’s title cut, a stripped down song unlike most of their others. Eventually joined by Williams on pedal steel, it built slowly to its end. Then suddenly all band members were back on stage for an already well-crowd-tested “new” one, All In The Family, leaving the crowd as whipped up as they had been the whole show, deliriously satisfied, and pumped for the next night.
On Thursday at The Music Hall of Williamsburg, the band made it clear that this would not be a repeat of the night before. Triumphantly parading in to the blaring Theme from Rocky, they launched into a new track I hadn’t heard before, Amber, and then followed with a one-two punch of When I Am Able and Not Turn Away. They continued to alternate between old tracks and songs from the new album, but the new songs weren’t always the ones that had been previewing for the past two years. Mid-set, Shaw showed a new side as he plaintively crooned Need You from the new album becoming one with his mics. It was brilliant and beautiful and sounded like vintage early 70s soul. If they had played that the night before, it was as a totally different arrangement.
The band was joined for one song by frequent stage guest Lucas Ellman of The Heard on saxophone for Upright. After closing with the usual over-the-top Criminal, followed by It Was A Sin, they returned for an encore of King of What, which Shaw sang while lying on the floor and encouraging the entire crowd to lay on the dirty, beer-sticky floor with him (they complied until the need for taking cell phone pix won out). The rest of the band sat on the edge of the stage, playing, singing and engaging fans, with only Williams on stage on his pedal steel. Back on stage, they finished with what Shaw said was “what the crowd was waiting” the powerful Soulfight.
For a band with only three albums and an EP, that I’ve seen over two dozen times, The Revivalists continue to mix it up when they play live. And while their recordings are great, they are no substitution for the energy they add when they perform. I’ll be back for more of The Gospel According to The Revivalists.
On Wednesday, warm up band People’s Blues of Richmond were rowdy, driving and loud and reminded me of the frenetic blues of Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm. They filled the club early with their own mass of fans who knew every word. It was wonderful to see a young band who so clearly enjoyed performing and being with their bandmates. As their time on stage was ending, each player was independently trying to catch the eye of the soundman to see how much longer they could stay on, and were ecstatic when they were granted two, not one, last songs. On Thursday, The Revivalists were supported by big-band old-school R&B/soul Gedeon Luke and the People, a nine-piece band coming off a couple months of touring. They had the crowd dancing the entire time and wandered out into the crowd for their encore. And with a lot of upcoming gigs in the area, they will most definitely be on my To See list.