March 29th marked the arrival of of the first real springtime weather that the Boston area experienced after what was a particularly harsh, snow-filled winter. In what cannot be logically conceived as a coincidence, it also marked the only Boston stop of the 2013 rendition of The Revival Tour. The three-hour barnburner of a show (on a Friday evening, no less) allowed the capacity, all-ages crowd (+/- 933) a chance to shake out the winter doldrums and revel in an epic night of musicianship and camaraderie the likes of which none present will soon forget.
Now in its sixth year, The Revival Tour features a rotating cast of characters working in unison, and ensuring that no two shows are exactly the same, creating a truly unique experience. Conceived and organized by the one-and-only Chuck Ragan, this stop on the tour featured the Hot Water Music co-frontman appearing alongside Dave Hause, Rocky Votolato, Toh Kay (Streetlight Manifesto) and Jenny Owen Youngs, all of whom were aided, at various times, by Ragan’s solo cohorts Jon Gaunt on the fiddle and Joe Ginsberg on the upright bass, as well as Addison Burns (most recently of Chris Wollard + the Ship Thieves) on percussion. (Other stops on the tour feature Matt Pryor, Tim McIlrath, Jay Malinowski and Jenny O.)
The night began, in Revival Tour fashion, with all of the evening’s artists joining each other on stage in a set that featured the group collaborating on one song from each of the main performers’ solo careers, kicked off appropriately by the Ragan solo track “Nomad By Fate.” One of the draws of The Revival Tour is that it combines artists that, while they may appear together on your Spotify playlist, you may not necessarily be able to envision them sharing the stage. And yet, like a campfire/barroom open mic amalgam, there was Dave Hause singing backup for Toh Kay on “We Will Fall Together,” Toh Kay’s virtuoso-style finger-picking on Rocky Votolato’s “White Daisy Passing,” Jenny Owen Youngs’ joining the chorus on Dave Hause’s “Prague (Revive Me)” and so on. There did seem to be a fair amount of learning from each other as they went, although that’s kinda the point of The Revival Tour.
After the opening set, each individual act was given a 30-minute-or-so spotlight set in which they played their own material. Toh Kay kicked things off from stage left with a set that turned into a rousing singalong, high in audience participation. Toh Kay seemed to have a small army in attendance, loyally camped out on his side of the stage, shouting song suggestions at every turn. Kay (real name Tomas Kalnoky) seemed willing and eager to give the audience what they wanted (though he was comically unable to give it at one point; the problem with having a large catalog is that sometimes the audience remembers your material better than you do).
Kalnoky gave way to Jenny Owen Youngs, who quickly noted that the audience seemed chipper, ready to sing along and to participate in the evening as actively as the paid performers were. Youngs’ set featured frequent collaboration from some combination of Ragan, Gaunt and Ginsberg with never less than stellar results. Particular favorites were Ginsberg manning the stand-up bass and vocals for “Walk The Line” and Ragan picking up the harmonica and bullet mic for Youngs’ “Love For Long” (my five-year-old would have been insanely jealous).
Votolato took over for Youngs, though Youngs was not off stage for long. When Votolato noted that he was struggling with lyric recall amidst the third verse of a cover of the Bob Dylan classic “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” Youngs swooped in to the rescue, Googling the appropriate lyrics and providing harmonies. Votolato (whom we don’t cover nearly enough on these pages) is a compelling songwriter whose albums, while each great in their own right, do little to really capture the power of his live performance.
Taking the baton from Votolato, and continuing to dial up the intensity of the evening’s solo portion, was Dave Hause. While many of the evening’s other performers have cut their teeth as solo performers for years, Hause’s stint in The Loved Ones has left him the consummate stage performer. As he ripped through a set that included Loved Ones songs and tracks from his solo debut, Resolutions, as well as three songs from his recently-recorded, as-yet-untitled sophomore album. Perhaps the only set I’ve ever witnessed that ended in a full audience singalong to a track that none of them had ever heard before. Only an artist with the commanding presence that Hause had would have the stones to try it, and without a chipper audience waiting on your every poignant word, it would have fallen miserably flat. Thankfully, it proved a fun highlight in an evening filled with fun highlights.
The man behind The Revival Tour, Chuck Ragan, took the final solo slot, and for good reason. Ragan has achieved almost mythical status due his relentlessly workmanlike, nose-to-the-grindstone, build-it-from-the-ground-up ethic, and rightfully so. Ragan seems committed to pouring his heart and soul into his every performance, whether it be songs like “Old Diesel” or “Nothing Left To Prove” from his solo catalog, or a gripping cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” And yet, as intense as Ragan is, his intensity (ferocity at times?) is matched by grace and humility; he continues to present as though he not only genuinely loves and appreciates doing what he does, but he genuinely relishes the brotherhood and camaraderie involved (yes, I stole those words from a Ragan track).
Camaraderie seemed to genuinely be the central theme of the evening. Each of the evening’s artists appeared genuine in their appreciation of the talents of the artists with whom they shared the stage. It would have been easy to envision each artist showing up, putting in their 25 minutes and heading to their respective corners and Instagram accounts, a la the ’25 Guys, 25 Cabs’ Red Sox teams of years passed. One gets the feeling that Chuck Ragan wouldn’t stand for that, however. Maybe it’s because the Revival Tour is now in its sixth year so some of that potential negative energy may have existed in years passed, but the tour, and Ragan specifically, seems to attract a certain type of performer. Each may have their own scars in the past (consider some of the introspective tales told in songs like Youngs’ “Fuck Was I” or Hause’s “Autism Vaccine Blues,” or Votolato’s “White Daisy Passing”), but Ragan seems to have instilled the idea that there is strength in numbers, a sort of mutual autopsy, self-help group that the crowd itself can partake in. That early thirties thing where we all just go insane.
It seems odd to say that a three-hour show raced by, but that’s exactly the feeling leaving a Revival Tour show. There was legitimately never a dull moment, because even if you were less-than-familiar with a certain part of a certain artists’ catalog, the diverse crowd was certain to contain a segment that was able to belt out every word with the artist, thereby making converts of the otherwise not-yet-ordained; the amount of people seen leaving the merch table with a Hause coozie and a Youngs’ CD and a Votolato shirt was noteworthy. Even if you don’t get a chance to see this particular lineup, make no mistake about it: The Revival Tour is not to be missed, nor soon forgotten.
Check out the photos here.