Our beautiful blonde bombshell Kerry McCallister Reid is at it again! This time she caught up with the Revivalists!
There are few bands out there today whose name so embodies its playing style. One of those bands is the Revivalists. Taking their moniker from the Bruce Springsteen quote about approaching live shows with a “revivalist’s fervor,” the New Orleans-based Revivalists are every bit the charismatic, spiritual evangelists. The music hall is their church and music is what they preach.
To this listener’s ear, the Revivalists are an amalgam. They are a jam band without hippies. They are anti-Spinal Tap rock. They are reggae tinged and soul inflected with a shot of adrenaline funk. Whatever style is your favorite, you’re sure to find a little of it in their music.
Comprised of lead singer, David Shaw; guitarist Zack Feinberg; Ed Williams on pedal steel guitar; bassist George Gekas; drummer Andrew Campanelli and Rob Ingraham on saxophone, the band is in Pensacola, Florida, their self-described home away from home, prior to their Mardi Gras show at Seville Quarter. I find them in the greenroom upstairs watching a boxing match on TV, drinking a few beers and relaxing.
“Indie, funk, soul, rock,” Williams offers, ticking each word off on his fingers. “That’s four genres right there.” He is attempting, for the sake of my question, to put the band in a genre, but he is joking, of course. They are reluctant to pigeon hole themselves into a musical style. Finally, he tells me, laughing, “Just put down ‘scrush metal,’” the only category, into which they definitely do not fall.
Though none of them seem to want the band defined, they understand why people feel the need to label them. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who says, ‘I don’t believe in genres,’ because obviously we do,” Feinberg explains. “We just kind of play whatever. Like, I don’t get so wrapped up in what somebody else is going to call us. If somebody said, ‘You guys are kind of a folk band,’ I’m not going to be offended or anything. Just come see us live.”
The band is known for its energetic live shows which are gaining traction outside the Gulf Coast region to the rest of the country. They recently played a sold-out show in New York City, went on tour with Gov’t Mule and as the band will attest, logged 50,000-plus miles on their tour van last year. Currently, they’re promoting their latest album, sophomore effort “City of Sound,” produced by friend and fellow New Orleanean Ben Ellman of Galactic fame. A follow up to 2010’s “Vital Signs” and a self-titled EP in 2008, the band believes “COS” to be its most, “sonically adventurous studio album to date.”
Although the songs off “COS” all came about differently, the Revivalists adhere to an organic style of songwriting (a fact I observed watching them create a new song from a jam in the sound check just prior to the interview). “I think ‘When I’m Able’ (off ‘COS’) is the ultimate example of that,” Williams explains. “It started out as this thing. We were practice jamming in the practice room and everybody started playing and we were like, ‘that’s a fun song.’ It was like no work was put into it really at all at first. Obviously, lyrically, I’m sure Dave put his special sauce on it later.”
Although other songs came about in an assembly line-process of sorts with each adding his instrument’s part, Feinberg readily admits, “We could write all day, though. It’s not forced.”
And if their songwriting style is organic, the term also applies to their live shows. The first thing I observed about their Pensacola performance, my second in a year, was how their energy filled the room. Often times I attend concerts where the energy goes out to row 10 and dies (I’m talking to you, Kings of Leon), so that inexplicably I find myself riding the front rail just to get in on the feeling that a live show can give you. I have a pretty firm philosophy that if I can’t be in on the action, I can save my money and listen on my iPod for free at home.
At this show, however, I observed from the back of the music hall but felt like I was on the front row. Lead singer David Shaw, who before the show, shucked off his hoodie as if throwing down the gauntlet, is charismatic in an honest way. On several occasions he hopped down from his perch on stage into the swirling audience to sing and at one point, climbed the loudspeaker onto the crowded second-story balcony to mingle with fans. I see this a lot, but Shaw does it with heart, not spectacle. He’s not a David Lee Roth; he’s a Kurt Cobain.
While it’s clear Shaw is a spontaneous and earnest performer, the Revivalists are a rare cohesive unit on stage, with each member just as much a showman, playing just as integral part as their lead singer, and perhaps that is the secret. On stage, they seem genuinely to want to put on a good show, not tick off another notch on their belt loop like you see many bands do. And while they admit to the occasional bad day, the band says each musician will step up and take over for another when that happens. “We have a lot of weapons,” Williams says of their six-man line up. “Maybe one of us is not feeling it, but there’s somebody else who is.”
The band, however, says there are numerous things, both internal and external, that energize them and keep them striving for the great performances they’re known for.
“Sometimes we go into new places we’ve never been and that’s always super exciting because we never know who’s going to show up or if there’s a lot of people or not and sometimes even when there aren’t, those shows are amazing,” Gekas explains. “The crowd may not have been there, but on a morale level we killed it, and it feels good inside because you realize why you’re doing this.”
Or, as Feinberg explains, the crowd’s willingness to participate is the impetus. “Last night was the first time we played in a club in New Orleans, I think since Halloween, and it was just electric from step one.”
However, a look at the band’s touring schedule, which includes a string of West Coast dates, proves the band is catching on outside New Orleans. The music industry is always looking for the next buzz band, and many critics are bestowing that honor on the Revivalists. Already they are traveling across the country this summer for shows at the Governor’s Ball Festival in New York, Wanee Music Festival in Florida, and SXSW in Austin, TX, one of the most prestigious events in the county. With festivals come the masses, and I have no doubt when the Revivalists take the stage, their brand of music evangelism is sure to win lots of converts.