Words and Pictures by Layne Lindroth
Despite the chilly Chicago air, fans assembled along the Milwaukee Avenue sidewalk long before doors-open in hopes of snagging a front row spot for The Revivalists. The band’s most dedicated fans—also known as “Revheads”—swapped stories of their favorite encounters with the band and their hopes for the setlist to come. One fan casually mentioned to some first-timers that he’d seen the band over sixty times and still thought each performance was the greatest. A band warranting sixty plus ticket purchases had to be incredible; only a couple hours before we newcomers would find out.
Finally the band—minus one—settled into their positions onstage and played the uptempo opening notes of “Bulletproof”, signaling lead singer David Shaw to center stage. From the second his wireless microphone left its stand Shaw was in perpetual motion: walking through the photography pit, stepping on gear boxes to get closer to fans, and every once in a while, launching his 6’5”-ish self high into the air. The neo-funk rock band makes the Energizer bunny look apathetic. The third song of the set, “Keep Going”, had even the most stoic of concertgoers pumping a fist and shouting the battle cry chorus, “We’ve gotta keep going, keep going, don’t care what anybody say, let the law take us away.”
Shaw continued to weave his way around the stage, riling up the crowd with his bouncing arms and strained, soulful vocals. The funky-groovy arrangement of “Stand Up” successfully institutes timewarp technology, making those not dressed in flare jeans and tie-dye feel out of place at the modern Concord Music Hall. The breezy saxophone, jumpy keys, and of course the lyrics, channel the blue-collar New Orleans roots of The Revivalists.
Just when it seemed like the bar for energy levels was unsurmountable, a familiar guitar riff rang out and The Revivalists dove headfirst into a cover of "Johnny B. Goode.' An amalgam of inventive dance moves (assumingly the young audience’s interpretation of 1950’s dance) left me half expecting Dick Clark to step out and thank the crowd for watching this week’s episode of American Bandstand. Shaw himself was swinging and toe-tapping across the stage, at the end using what little breath he had left in his lungs to shout “Rest in peace” and throw a peace sign to the sky.
By this point in the set it was safe to say that even the skeptics dragged to the show by friends of friends were having a good time, but after “It Was a Sin” they were scooping their jaws off the floor. Shaw’s wild, curly mane (which broke free from its hair tie fittingly while singing the lyric “I’m turning into a monster” earlier in the set) took on a life of its own as he thrashed with the strobe lights. Saxophonist Rob Ingraham twirled his instrument in circles overhead, Michael Girardot played the keys with one hand and a trumpet with the other, all the while Shaw led a chant between himself and the audience, “Don’t hide, don’t hide, don’t hide from me.”
Their volume steadily increased with the drum tempo, building in intensity until feet could stomp no faster, chests were tight with anticipation, and then Ed Williams’ steel guitar screeched like a deep gasp for air, stopping time for one breathless second before crashing back into the chorus. It was one of those magical moments that reminds everyone why live music is important, that connects fans to one another, and that truly is felt rather than heard.
The encore opened with one of the band’s first and most beloved songs, “Soulfight”. The crowd of Revheads—new and old—almost drowned out Shaw’s voice singing, “So I'm gonna stand here by your fire, ‘cuz it's a cold one tonight. I'm taking care of soulfight and you're the reason why.” Right as the clock struck midnight fans proved that their tired voices were still intact enough to belt the funky radio hit “Wish I Knew You” loud enough to shake the walls. And then, in full Irish outfit from kilt to cap, out came a bagpiper. The closing song was not “Wish I Knew You” but “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’N’Roll)”, with special bagpipe-playing guest (for St. Patty’s Day, of course) and boy, did they kill it. All seven members of The Revivalists performed with the energy and pure passion required to entertain a Soldier Field sized audience, so here’s to hoping they get there.
Do yourself a favor and get out to see The Revivalists next time you have the chance; they’re funk-ing fantastic.