The Railroad Revival Tour:
Mumford and Sons
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Old Crow Medicine Show
April 21, 2011
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, Oakland
Better than: a Bible thumper in a cat house.
Here's an idea: Get three great bands together on a sparkly train, haul across the country for a half-dozen shows in unusual outdoor venues, and play your asses off as twilight bathes 8,000-10,000 live-music junkies in a rosy glow. Toss in some affordable brew and garlic fries -- get security to accommodate the bring-your-own tokers -- and call it the hottest hoedown of the season. That's pretty much how the Railroad Revival Tour played out last night in a remote part of Oakland, where the big rigs meet container ships in the shadow of those dinosaur cranes that bring iPods from China to a hip-pocket near you.
Old Crow Medicine Show opened the three-band bill with a hard-rockin' bluegrass set that had the early arrivals kicking up their boots and Converse in giddy American glee. Good for those who took a sick day from work, not so good for those who clocked out at five or later. The gig started promptly at 6:10pm, and the crowd control left something to be desired. Picture this: Thousands of eager concertgoers barricaded into a double-file queue that stretched for more than a mile. Some wept openly, hearing the distant echo of one OMCS song after another, knowing by the time they babystepped through the security pat-down, the set would be nearly over. Damn shame, too, as this opening act was the highlight of the concert.
Following the lead of a few, shall we say, assertive punks, we snaked our way as close to the front of the line as we could, which enabled us to catch a half-dozen OMCS tunes in all their ragged Appalachian glory. "Hard to Tell" was the jam we tumbled in on, dancing our way to within a hundred feet of the stage. The sound was dirty heaven, all string joy with dueling banjos, violin, upright bass, mandolin, and acoustic geetar. Packed into a sweet spot between a gang of ladies from San Francisco and Sacramento, we worked up a sweat on the green grass of the country side of the bay.The band did the same on stage, downshifting the tempo only twice for a soulful version of the folk-blues classic "C.C. Rider" and the audience favorite "Wagon Wheel." Otherwise, it was high times, full-tilt backporch boogie. "Tell It to Me," always a treat, especially hit home as violinist/singer Ketch Secor namedropped ostensible West Coast trade routes for the mighty whiffin' powder memorialized in a number of OMCS's songs: Ukiah, Davis, Sactown. He well knows his California geography, and we loved him for it. Still, we worry about these guys. Secor's nose was mighty red -- which could've come from the bay breeze, but we just didn't think that was the case -- and every time we see the band's other frontman, guitarist/singer Willie Watson, he seems more haggard than before. Perhaps he's just a skinny dude, or we're all getting on in years. Then again, maybe not. "Cocaaaaaine's... gonna kill my honey dead." Before Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros came on, one of our newest friends -- the mass of humanity at open-air shows essentially mandates camaraderie with total strangers (this makes us happy) -- described them as a hippie-groove bigband that could be a jam band if they tried a little harder. Turns out they're more a chant band than a jam band, the spotlight mostly shining on vocalist Alex Ebert, a pop messiah who compelled the crowd to shout along with him on every song. He rocks the whiskers, too, the forty-days-in-the-desert hair, the shining eyes -- and oh, when he reached out and grasped the hands of his followers, they swooned from his healing touch. For real. The arty stoner energy was so positive, even just-say-no activists would have conceded that recreational marijuana use can foster community like little else on God's green earth. Ebert said, "Thank you for life, a lifetime of thanks and beyond." Another choice line: "I love you forever, and forever is now." Hallelujah! That's revival-speak for life is good, pass me another jay, por favor. Tante grazie. In the end, we were encouraged that stoner sounds from the '60s are still alive and wafty on the skunky air, even if the purveyors of said sounds rose up from the indie underground by pimping out one of their jangly tunes for a car commercial. C'est la vie.Mumford and Sons capped the show with an earnest set that seemed Irish to us, despite the band's West London roots. Their heave-ho six-string strumming made us want to swill a Guinness and kiss our cousins. A girl we danced with called the sound "English bluegrass, what's popular now." We were suspect, but whatever. She was cute.
M&S are a fine outfit, and their songs were performed well, but after the high-energy of Old Crow Medicine Show and the freakish power of the Magnetic Zeros, these stout-hearted U.K. folks felt a little too coffeehouse, a little too Simon and Garfunkel to be the closing act. A few bleary-eyed concertgoers on the shuttle bus back agreed. But none of us were complaining.----See more pictures from the Railroad Revival Tour in Oakland.