Walking up the stairs of a historic venue, it’s surreal realizing how many famous artists have walked the same steps. The walls of the Fillmore in San Francisco are lined with action shots of music’s most prominent contributors with the date of performance etched underneath. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Allman Brothers Band, The Doors, Grateful Dead, and Johnny Cash were all looking at me as I passed through the well lit hallway into the electrifying darkness of the venue.
The darkness was replaced by flamboyant opener, Magic Giant. They performed a highly energetic, mildly entertaining pop-folk rock pomp. Growing up listening to some of the great folk-rock artists (Avett Brothers, Langhorne Slim, and Old Crow Medicine Show), this banjo-synth combo came off as offensive rather than innovative. Fifteen minutes after they left the stage, my patience began to run thin. I couldn’t wait to see The Revivalists. To pass the time, I began replaying the hours of live footage I watched in preparation for this show. At around 10:30, The Revivalists came out with cool, humble confidence. Each member went to their station: Andrew Campanelli on the drums, Michael Girardot on the keys/trumpet, George Gekas on bass, Rob Ingraham on the sax, Zach Feinberg on guitar, the incredible Ed Williams on pedal steel guitar, and David Shaw on vocals.
The Revivalists formed in 2007 when Feinberg happened to take a different route through the streets of New Orleans, riding past Shaw’s hypnotic voice singing what would become one of the Revivalists later releases, “Purple Heart”, from their first full-length album, Vital Signs (2010). Instantly intrigued, Feinberg stopped to talk to Shaw. They hit it off, getting together later that day to jam. After a few more sessions, Feinberg and Shaw roped Campanelli into the mix. “The Revivalists” first appeared during their debut show at a New Orleans jam venue: Tipitina’s. Although recent success with Men Amongst Mountains (2015) has brought The Revivalists out of the New Orleans bubble and onto the cusp of the mainstream, they haven’t let go of their southern roots.
Decorated to look like a New Orleans street corner during Mardi Gras, the Fillmore was bathed in purple and gold lighting. The southern atmosphere was filled with enthusiastic, jazz influenced guitar riffs, crisp, blaring horns, and sugar-sweet vocals. Shaw’s charismatic energy drew the focus of the countless couples away from their partners and toward the stage. Third song in, Shaw called on the audience to “be present in this very moment” and to let go of all stress, a healthy transition into “Keep Going” off Men Amongst Mountains. Shaw’s cliche remark was remarkably convincing. He hooked me, and the rest of the audience, in and headed a remarkable, theatrical performance.
The setlist was a fresh mix of their three albums, with “Soulfight” making a special appearance from their self-titled EP (2008). Interlaced in Shaw’s smooth, genuine voice, the remaining six members built a sturdy, well-fitting jam. Ingraham showed his range on the saxophone by transitioning effortlessly from smooth, playful jazz to sharp, thought provoking free-form. Although technical difficulties did arise when his bass amp malfunctioned, Gekas made his formal jazz ability apparent with a talented solo. But the stars of the jam were Feinberg and Williams, who switched back and forth between distorted guitar and bluesy pedal steel. Williams’ performance put him on par with another slide legend who once performed at the Fillmore: Derek Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Shaw brought me and the other 1000 attendees to an elated peak with “All in The Family” and a melancholy trough with “Catching Fireflies.”
Each song performed was brimming with enthusiasm.
During their finale, the Revivalists’ energy boiled over with “It Was a Sin,” a track off Men Amongst Mountains that has a teeth clenching build followed by a jaw dropping instrumental slam. After a long instrumental fade out, they left the stage to tumultuous applause. The applause did not stop until the Revivalists came back out for their encore. Their encore included their main hit, “Wish I Knew You,” interlaced with soulful, melodic jams.
It’s rare to see genuine synchronization between every member of band as large as the Revivalists. Beyond a spectacular musical performance, Shaw came across as a convincing theatrical lead, drawing the audience in and latching them to every loquacious word. On February 11, the Fillmore adopted a little piece of New Orleans culture, adding The Revivalists to the list of notable Fillmore alumni.
Written by Brendan Redmond